An Indian tribe in Oklahoma hopes to launch an online gambling site serving international customers, assuming a federal judge says it’s okay.
Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma chairman Bobby Walkup recently issued a press release stating that on Dec. 23, the tribe asked a US District Court Judge in Oklahoma City to certify an arbitrator’s November ruling.
That ruling stated that an international-facing online gambling site was within the boundaries of the existing Oklahoma Tribal-State Gaming Compact and didn’t represent a violation of either state or federal law.
On Nov. 24, retired Oklahoma Criminal Court of Appeal judge Charles Chapel issued a decision that the state’s tribal gaming compact allowed for the possibility of online gambling. Chapel said internet gaming was “merely using technology to play covered games” and didn’t “extend or restrict the scope of the games and does not amend the compact in any way.”
That’s a different view from the one expressed by the federal Department of the Interior when the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma tried to launch a similar site a few years back. The DOI said the site was outside the scope of the tribe’s existing compact with the state and also violated the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes challenged that opinion in court but the suit was dropped in 2014 after elections ushered in new tribal leadership that washed its hands of the troubled online venture.
BIG PLANS, LITTLE CHANCE OF SUCCESS
The Iowa Tribe’s site would be known as Pokertribe.com, which plans to launch with online poker before branching out into slots, bingo, blackjack, baccarat and pull-tabs.
The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes’ deal with Oklahoma called for the state to receive a 20% cut of the site’s revenue, which most observers felt would make profits elusive. By contrast, the state’s share of the Iowa Tribe site’s revenue will depend on how much traffic the site receives. That may make it technically easier for the site to turn a profit, but both the tribe and the state are likely to end up disappointed with the returns.
The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes had suggested that their site could generate annual revenue of $132m if it could capture 2% of the global internet gambling market. Of course, if your kids’ lemonade stand could capture 2% of the global beverage market, you’d be asking them for an allowance, but you’d best hold on to your day job for the time being.
Quite how the tribes expected to convince 2% of the world’s online gamblers – many of which have access to innumerable sites in their home countries – to visit (let alone gamble with) a new and unfamiliar site was never explained. Neither was the source of the many of millions of dollars the tribes would require to establish this new site in the public consciousness.
UEG WON’T GIVE UP ON OKLAHOMA
It the Iowa Tribe’s Pokertribe.com sounds a lot like the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes’ Pokertribes.com, there’s a good reason. Both sites’ technology is/was to be provided by Universal Entertainment Group (UEG), a Florida-based company whose owners reached a $4.2m settlement with the Federal Trade Commission in 2011 over a deceptive telemarketing business.
The Iowa Tribe’s Walkup said his office conducted due diligence on UEG’s previous deal with the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes as well as “the present history of UEG, its principle, and its entire team.” Walkup said this investigation had uncovered “nothing which the Iowa Tribe deemed to be an impediment to proceeding with UEG.”
UEG manager Isaias Almira told The Oklahoman that Pokertribe.com could launch “within a matter of weeks’ of a favorable ruling by the federal judge. In addition to international customers, Almira said Pokertribe.com would accept players from US states that have legalized intrastate online gambling, a claim that will likely come as news to regulators in those states.
Bottom line, while this site wholeheartedly supports the rights of North America’s indigenous peoples to do what’s necessary to ensure the wellbeing of their communities, Pokertribe.com won’t be anyone’s magic bullet … with the possible exception of UEG, which received $9.4m from the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes before their relationship soured.