Attorney Keith Sharp, who represents Commerce Casino, Hawaiian Gardens and Bicycle Club — the three Los Angeles-area card rooms who have joined the Morongo Band of Mission Indians in partnership negotiations with PokerStars — said his clients will continue those discussions despite the response they have received from other gaming interests in California.
"The negative reaction hasn't affected our discussions going forward," Sharp said. "We're continuing our discussions with PokerStars, and we'll continue moving in that direction until circumstances tell us otherwise."
The issue of whether or not PokerStars should be allowed the opportunity to participate in California has become the most hotly-contested matter keeping the state's gaming entities from reaching a consensus on online poker legislation to push forward. It is likely to be one of the topics debated at an informational hearing on iGaming scheduled in the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee for April 23 at 1:30 p.m.
A dozen tribes issued a joint statement last week opposing the inclusion of "bad actors" into a California intrastate poker network, and PokerStars provided a response. The Pechanaga and San Manuel tribes are the lead supporters of opposing bills in the state legislature — with Pechanga behind Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer's AB 2291 and San Manuel pushing Sen. Lou Correa's SB 1366. However, preventing PokerStars from joining the market is something they both agree on.
Sharp wants the decision on PokerStars to be left to the California Gambling Control Commission rather than be included in a bill. "Bad actors" weren't prevented in the three current states to allow Internet poker. New Jersey and Delaware left the decision to regulators — with the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement suspending Rational Group's (PokerStars' parent company) casino service industry license for two years — and Nevada created a five-year penalty box.
"We have tremendously competent regulators in California," Sharp said. "Leave it to the people who know what they're doing to look at each case individually."
"Bad actors" usually are defined by having operated in the U.S. after the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) in 2006. Sharp points out that UIGEA didn't make anything unlawful that wasn't already unlawful, and that online poker was not specifically illegal in the country or most of its states.
"Using this UIGEA cutoff date as the be all, end all of judging someone a bad actor is anti-competitive and takes the investigative expertise out of the investigators' hands," Sharp said.
Sharp defended PokerStars' reputation, which is strong enough globally that it is by far the most popular online poker site in the world. When the big three poker sites were forced out of the U.S. market in 2011, PokerStars proved to be the only one that was handling its players' money appropriately and could immediately refund their balances. Then, the company went above and beyond by also refunding Full Tilt Poker players in its settlement agreement with the United States Department of Justice.
"PokerStars has an impeccable record and is licensed in more jurisdictions than any other site," Sharp said. "Poker players are saying they want to play on PokerStars again because they trust them."