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Real-Money Online Poker Coming To California This Month, Tribal Gaming Regulator Says

California Tribe Says It Will Launch During Last Week Of August


A real-money online poker site for Californians “will be flipping the switch on for real money sometime between the 26th and 28th,” according to Santa Ysabel Gaming Commission Chairman Dave Vialpando.

Vialpando told Card Player that the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel’s free-play online poker product will have real-money offerings for those who are residents of California and 18 years of age or older. You must also be physically within the borders of the Golden State to play.

The tribe’s intentions were announced last month, though it wasn’t exactly clear about a launch date.

Card Player had the chance to ask Vialpando about the tribe’s bold move into the online space despite California not having legalized online poker.

Brian Pempus: Can you talk about the process of deciding to go through with this despite no online poker bill in California passing yet?

Dave Vialpando: Yeah, there is none that will be passing. I actually read a statement from [Assemblyman] Jones-Sawyer that they will be re-introducing a bill for California in December. It doesn’t really affect our plans. Our authority to offer class II gaming from our reservation is not prohibited by any statute. In fact, we believe it is covered by IGRA. We have been fully cooperative with all the government agencies that have asked us questions, in fact with anyone who has asked us questions. Most of our regulations are public documents, so it’s pretty much full disclosure for us. We did form an alliance with the California Council on Problem Gambling and we have just put the finishing touches on what we think is a model responsible gambling program for internet gaming providers. We will be rolling that out shortly. We are moving full speed ahead.

BP: Why didn’t other tribes in California try this before? Why do you think you are the first?

DV: Well, I wouldn’t even try to speak for other tribes, but what I have heard is that some tribes are reluctant to do online gaming not because they fear the government but because they worry about the adverse effect it could have on their brick-and-mortar enterprises. So folks, some of the smaller tribes, are perfectly satisfied with the revenues being generated from their land-based casinos, and they have no intention to enter online gaming. They don’t see it as a viable business opportunity for their particular tribe. Of course there are the tribes that would just defer to the state to come up with the regulatory framework and structure. It has taken us more than two years of planning. As the Chairman of the Santa Ysabel Gaming Commission my concern is to cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s on the regulatory side. It has been very labor intensive. Some tribes will want the state to create that framework and then they will fill in the blanks for their particular property. There are several reasons tribes have decided not to enter online gaming at this time.

BP: What exactly will be available for players at the real-money launch?

DV: It is an operation question. We have limited offerings right now because we want to make sure everything checks out reliability wise from beta testing. It will be a slow roll-out. We will be adding new features and tournaments, and promotions as we move down the road and gain experience. The product we have right now is absolutely solid. We are very confident with it. As soon as we develop that customer loyalty we are going to be looking to expand—all within the confines of what is permitted by law. We have no intention, in fact it is stated on the Gaming Commission website, of offering any class III gaming. So, we won’t have any slots or house-banked games. Nothing like that, if until the state of California licenses those kinds of games. We are actually for state [legalization of online poker]. After two years of developing our enterprise, we have some knowledge to share with the state. One of the reasons we built the responsible gambling program that we did was to offer that to the state if and when it legalizes online gaming. It could be a model adopted by others. To answer your question directly: What you see now in the free-play version is what you will see when we flip the switch on for real-money. It will only be available to California residents, who are 18 years or older, and who are located within California [at the time of play].

BP: Are there plans to eventually offer games to people in other countries?

DV: Anything is possible within the confines of what is permitted by law and what the tribe decides is a smart business decision. Our immediate plans right now are to do the best we can in the enterprise that we spent the last two years developing…I would imagine the federal government would have something to say about [this] if the activity expanded beyond the bounds of the state.

BP: Do you anticipate other tribes in California, or across the U.S., following you into the real-money online poker business?

Santa Ysabel Indian ReservationDV: We hope so. We have received inquiries from tribes throughout the state asking us questions. We are more than willing to assist others, and I think we mentioned on about establishing an affiliate program. We are encouraging other tribes to follow us because we feel our product is solid and economically viable. Ultimately, it will benefit the tribe and we are looking forward to that. Our tribe, with nearly 1,000 members and 50,000 acres, is sourly in need of infrastructure improvements and economic development. We are excited to be able to provide that for the tribe.