As the debate about the legalization and regulation of online gambling in California got under way yesterday the polarised position of two Indian tribes brought the debate into sharp relief – and brought to mind that classic evolutionary reality: only the fittest survive. The informal Senate Government Organization Committee was attended by various bodies and politicians arguing for and against the proposal to permit Californians to bet on their laptops and iPhones in an intrastate internet gambling network run by tribes and card rooms and taxed by the state. The Poker Players’ Alliance, numerous online gambling companies and casino-owning Indian tribes all added their ha’penny’s worth to the debate, which is effectively a no-brainer. As Sen. Roderick Wright said: “At this time of day, I’m going to guess 30,000 to 40,000 people are playing in California. It’s not as though we’re sitting here making a decision whether or not people are going to play internet poker. That ship’s sailed.” The consulting firm Global Betting and Gaming estimates the number of active accounts held by state residents dropped from 7.8 million in 2006 to 5.7m in 2007, following the Unlawful Illegal Gambling Enforcement Act, but has since shot to 8.4m this year and is heading for 10m plus by 2012. Nonetheless there remain those who refuse to accept that the world is not flat and are adamant that online gambling shall not and will not eventually be given the green light. “We simply do not agree with the consequences of authorizing intrastate internet poker,” said Mark Macarro, chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians. Of course they don’t. They believe in maintaining the status quo for fear of losing millions in revenue from their land-based casinos to the newly legalized online market. And in a desperate raging against the dying of the light the tribe is trying to claim that online gambling violates their agreements with California, and threatening to withhold more than $42.5m in annual casino revenue-sharing payments to the state if (or rather when) California approves online poker. But, with the exception of the moral crusaders who would have us believe legal gambling will see us all go to hell in a handcart of debt and gambling addiction, theirs is a lone voice in the wilderness. And it’s hardly surprising. They are like the little boy trying to plug the widening hole in the dyke. “We feel the games should be controlled by the tribes and the state – and taxed,” said Robert Martin, chairman of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians – a powerful casino tribe from Riverside County which is angling for a piece of the pie, and which I daresay is unlikely to go the way of the Incas. As Harrah’s Harrah’s Interactive CEO Mitch Garber said at the International Gaming Awards recently. “I am really very hopeful that the land-based gaming world will embrace the online gaming world, will partner with the online gaming world and will help the online gaming world in achieving the type of consistent and unambiguous interpretation of laws, the type of strong regulatory frameworks that we have in the land-based world. It will only benefit all of us if we can achieve that in the online world as well.” The fact is, these times are a-changing and those who survive will be those who embrace change and innovate. All land-based casinos will end up in the business of online gaming eventually. And those that don’t will either be bought out by their online competitors or simply go out of business. There is no stopping the march of time. Remember the guys who used to run factories making horse drawn carriages… no, nor do I.
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