The Santa Ysabel tribe of California made news by being the first group to launch real money online poker in California. This was very surprising because there has been no official legislation in California regarding online poker. The tribe went ahead and asserted their tribal sovereignty and set up a poker site.
The announcement came from Marco Valerio. The former Quadjacks reporter announced on his website that Santa Ysabel was going to launch a real money poker site. Valerio also posted a screenshot of the software. His article discussed the legalities surrounding the launch. Valerio learned about the launch after receiving a press release from attorney Martin Owens. Owens is the attorney who is involved in providing legal advice for the Ysabel tribe.
The news shocked the poker community. There had been no rumors about a pending launch. No one had heard anything about online poker in California. Normally there are news articles, press releases, and interviews with relevant parties in the months leading up to the launch. In this case, there was not one hint that anything was developing.
When Nevada and New Jersey were developing their online poker sites everyone heard about it. There were many interviews with the representatives from the different casinos. Mainstream newspapers even did cover stories about the process. In New Jersey, there was almost a full year of coverage before the first hand of online poker was dealt. This is why so many were shocked that a California site was going to open up to real money players.
California Poker Legislation
Many people expect California to be the next state to legalize online poker. This is because California has a thriving poker scene. There are several large poker rooms in California, including: Commerce Casino, Bicycle Casino and Hollywood Park. There are also many Indian tribes that have been actively involved in seeking poker rooms to partner with.
The problem is that there is currently no official poker legislation that has passed or is even in the process of being voted upon. Currently, the only sites that are operating in California are U.S. facing poker sites that operate in a legal gray area. These sites include Merge and Bovada.
The Santa Ysabel tribe is making the argument that because they are an independent nation, they can operate a poker site regardless of California state laws. They are also claiming that the only regulation necessary is tribal oversight. This is the part that has many in the poker community nervous.
Santa Ysabel Poker: Reason To Worry?
The immediate reaction from the poker community was one of surprise, but that soon turned to skepticism. Many people believe that the path to regulate online poker is best left to the states. If online poker is to be handled by individual tribal nations, that will complicated. The Indian tribes are using a legal ruling from 1988. The law is called the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
Under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, non-house games such as bingo and poker can be offered on Indian reservations. The law was writer well before the advent of online poker. The law does not state that Indian tribes can offer online poker to residents of California. The law only states that they can offer real money poker or bingo on their own property.
The tribes are interpreting the law to mean that they can host online poker on their land. Many people believe that this is a misreading of the law. There are also those in the poker community who believe that this is the wrong step towards legalization. If the tribe continues to use that law, it will involve lawyers and years of legal battles. The alternative is to allow the California state legislature to pass meaningfully statewide legislation. This has worked in Nevada and New Jersey. In each instance it took less than a year to formalize. If individual tribes are going to have to defend themselves in court and go though trials, the process might stretch out for years.
Another reason people are suspicious about Santa Ysabel is that they had a brick and mortar casino that failed. They were unable to maintain enough business in a real casino. They ended up owing the government and other Indian tribes money. They are currently involved in lawsuits over debts.
The tribe has already filed for bankruptcy. This was in order to get out of paying debts. This raises questions as to the solvency of the tribe. Do they have enough money to operate an online poker room?
The most alarming aspect is the tribes affiliation with the Kahnawake Gaming Commission. This is a commission based in Canada. They are affiliated with the Mohawk tribe. This was the company involved in the UB and AP super user scandal. They allowed for people within the company to cheat players for millions of dollars. This alone makes most hesitant about trusting Santa Ysabel.
Then there is the issue of Christopher Wolfington. He is the man who is involved with the payment processor the Santa Ysabel intends of using. Wolfington was previously involved with a company called Money Centers of America. They recently filed for Bankruptcy. Money Centers of America was a payment processor that dealt with several Native American tribes. There are lawsuits pending which involve the Ojibwe Indians seeking millions in damages.
How Can You Deposit?
So, suppose you still want to deposit? The Santa Ysabel poker site has two options. The first is a service called FinPay. This is a new online service that operates like larger E-Wallets. This is the company that is connected to Christopher Wolfington. The site is relatively new site and it has yet to be seen if it can be trusted.
The second method of depositing involved visiting the tribal smoke shop and depositing money. The reservation has a smoke shop where they sell cigarettes. You will have to set up an account and then you can deposit money in person at the shop. This is going to limit the amount of people who will be able to play on the site. Santa Ysabel, California is not located near any large cities. It is inconvenient for people to travel there. This will make it very unlikely that people will travel there to deposit money.
The Santa Ysabel tribe is using Winning Poker Networks software. This network is already operational in the U.S. The WPN (Winning Poker Network) is responsible for BlackChip Poker, Americas Cardroom, and Truepoker. These sites are very popular with U.S. players. The software is easy to use and it is a good sign that the Ysabel tribe has partnered with Winning Poker Network. The software has been in use for several years and there have been no problems with it.
Future of California Online Poker
Most people believe that what the Santa Ysabel is doing is positioning themselves for a seat at the table when California legislation finally passes. The tribe wants to make sure that when California legalizes online poker, they will be involved in the process. The Santa Ysabel is a relatively small tribe. They most likely fear that larger Indian tribes would be involved in the process and they would be left out.
Even if the site does not take off, it is a good sign that the movement towards legal online is progressing. The more interest there is in online poker, the more likely it is that California politicians will move forward with drafting a law. The state will benefit from the revenue. This is is a very promising step towards widespread legal poker.