A California tribe says it will begin taking real-money wagers on its online poker site later this month. The Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel made waves last month when it announces the launch of PrivateTable.com, an online poker site operated by the tribe’s Santa Ysabel Interactive. The site has offered only play-money poker to date but Dave Vialpando, chairman of the Santa Ysabel Gaming Commission, says the site will begin dealing real-money poker “sometime between the 26th and 28th” of August.
In an interview with CardPlayer, Vialpando said the real-money wagering will be restricted to California residents aged 18 years or older, and only when said individuals are physically present within state borders. Vialpando said the tribe continues to support efforts by state politicians to pass an online poker bill but was nonetheless “moving full speed ahead” following the failure of said efforts to progress in the current legislative session.
There remains some debate as to whether PrivateTable’s real-money offering is legally permissible. Vialpando insists that PrivateTable falls under the category of Class II gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) and thus the tribe’s right to offer such activity from its reservation “is not prohibited by any statute.”
As for why no other federally recognized California tribe has so far chosen to exercise this option, Vialpando suggested it could be because of a belief that online poker might cannibalize brick-and-mortar casino revenue. Vialpando also noted that his tribe’s creation of its own online poker regulatory framework had been “very labor intensive” and other tribes might prefer to pass that burden onto state legislators.
While PrivateTable has yet to be the subject of any legal efforts to block its activity, that may change as the clock counts down to its targeted real-money launch. Apart from the issue of whether the federal government would choose to dispute the tribe’s view of IGRA’s definitions, the state’s larger tribes already have enough difficulty dismantling barriers to consensus without the distraction of an online outlier going rogue.
Consumer confidence may also inhibit PrivateTable’s real-money plans, as concerns have been voiced over Finpay, the site’s designated payment processor. Finpay appears to have no other business links beyond PrivateTable but Finpay CEO Chris Wolfington was also CEO of Money Centers of America, a company that processed check payments for tribal brick-and-mortar casinos until it filed for bankruptcy protection in March. The Ho-Chunk Nation, which operates six casinos in Wisconsin, and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Indians in Minnesota, are owed a combined $10.4m from Money Centers.
The Santa Ysabel tribe operated a brick-and-mortar casino on its tribal lands in San Diego County but the casino filed for bankruptcy in 2012 and shut down for good this February after racking up debts of over $50m. The PrivateTable site licensed its software from IG Soft/Dobrosoft, the same group powering the Winning Poker Network. The tribe has struck an “inter-Jurisdictional agreement” with the Mohawk Territory of Kahnawake, which has agreed to host PrivateTable’s “primary” servers.