Major California tribes with casinos announced Tuesday that they had reached agreement on legislation that would legalize online poker in the nation's largest state.
In a letter to state Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, and Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles – the authors of online poker bills that had each attracted support from various members of the state's influential tribal casino industry – 13 tribal leaders said they had come to terms.
"As you know, this journey has been long and difficult, but the challenges posed by the Internet demand that we harness rather than cede the technology of the future for California and for our tribal communities," the leaders wrote in the letter. "In achieving consensus for Internet poker, we reaffirm our commitment to the longstanding principle of limited gaming that has guided California's public policy toward gaming."
Notably absent from the letter is the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, a Riverside County tribe that leads an online poker coalition that includes industry giant PokerStars.
The legislation backed by the other tribes includes language that would prohibit PokerStars and other alleged "bad actors" from participating. Critics contend that PokerStars violated a federal ban on online gambling. PokerStars, the Morongo tribe and other members of their coalition reject that.
In a statement, the Morongo-led coalition said, "Efforts by a select few interests to rewrite longstanding and effective policy in order to gain a competitive market advantage or to lock out specific companies is not in the best interests of consumers or the state and will be vigorously opposed by our coalition, online poker players and many others."
Last month, the chairman of the politically powerful Morongo tribe said "bad actor" decisions should be left up to gambling regulators and not written into law,
"If it disqualifies our partner without even giving them an opportunity to apply, we would have to fight that," Chairman Robert Martin said May 22 during an online poker conference in Sacramento.
Major opposition also could come from Nevada casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who opposes online gambling and recently enlisted former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown to his cause.
Correa's Senate Bill 1366 and Jones-Sawyer's Aseembly Bill 2291 both would require two-thirds votes to pass.
Here's the tribal leaders' letter to the lawmakers.
PHOTO: Darren Yee shuffles a deck of cards during an April 2008 poker night in Sacramento. The Sacramento Bee/Florence Low