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Santa Ysabel Tribe May Launch Real-Money Online Poker in California Next Week

While the rest of the poker stakeholders in California bicker over who gets a seat at the online poker table, the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel is taking matters into its own hands. According to Santa Ysabel Gaming Commission Chairman Dave Vialpando, the tribe will be launching its real-money internet poker offering next week, state legislation be damned.

Vialpando made the declaration in a recent interview with, saying Santa Ysabel “will be flipping the switch on for real money sometime between the 26th and 28th.” The tribe already has a site,, up and running, but it currently only spreads play money poker games. It has run some freeroll tournaments that have awarded Google Play and iTunes gift cards as prizes, but as there is no real money accepted as a buy-in, these tournaments are not considered gambling.

The Santa Ysabel tribe announced its intentions to offer real money online poker last month, the same time it launched, but had yet to set a date. Though no laws have been passed in California that would legalize and regulate online poker in the state, the tribe believes that federal law opens the door for it to go ahead, anyway. In a declaration posted on the Santa Ysabel Gaming Commission’s website, it stated, “In offering online gaming through Santa Ysabel Interactive, the Tribe is exerting its sovereign right under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) to regulate and conduct Class II gaming from the tribe’s reservation.”  private-table-logo-2

The statement goes on to explain that Class II gaming includes poker and bingo, but not games that the player plays against the house, such as blackjack or slots. These are considered Class III games, which according to IGRA, can only be offered if the tribe signs a compact with the state. “Santa Ysabel has had such a compact with the state since 2005,” the statement continues, “but has no plans to offer Class III gaming through its interactive website.”

A few state legislators have been trying to get online poker bills passed for years, but nothing has been accomplished. The problems with getting things passed seem to stem from the sheer size of California. Because there are so many stakeholders, namely the card rooms, Native American tribes, and race tracks that want a piece of the action, it has been extraordinarily difficult for anyone to agree on the terms of regulation. Of particular friction is the determination of exactly who will be eligible to apply for an interactive gaming license and who will be left out in the cold. With the most recent online poker bills that were shelved, the main points of contention were whether or not horse tracks would be allowed to operate online poker rooms and the possible inclusion of a “bad actor” clause, which would prohibit any operator who offered online poker to California residents after 2006 from entering the new regulated market.

While many parties, particularly Native American tribes, want the bad actor clause in any legislation to keep established players out of the market, not all competitors do. The Morongo Band of Mission Indians, the Commerce Club, the Bicycle Casino, and the Hawaiian Gardens Casino have already agreed to a partnership with PokerStars to offer an online poker product in California.

For its part, the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel has a real problem with the way online poker legislation discussions have gone in California. In a July statement, Dave Vialpando said, “The current proposed legislation excludes all but the wealthiest gaming tribes from engaging in state-regulated online gaming. Smaller or remotely located tribes, like Santa Ysabel, would not be able to meet the financial prerequisites for participation in online gaming as currently proposed.…”

He added, “The proposed legislation discounts and marginalizes years of successful and experienced regulation of tribal gaming in California in favor of relatively inexperienced state gaming regulators.”

Vialpando told CardPlayer that the tribe has nothing to hide, that this is not some hidden ball trick:

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.

He posits that other tribes have not tried this yet because they may be nervous that online gambling would cannibalize their brick-and-mortar casino businesses. The Santa Ysabel tribe, located about 20 miles northeast of San Diego, will not have to worry about this possibility, as it recently shut down its casino. It would clearly like to take a leadership role in the online poker market in California; it is encouraging other tribes to become affiliates of Vialpando told CardPlayer that other tribes contacted Santa Ysabel to ask questions and that his tribe is more than willing to help.

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