In a rather odd series of events, the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma were just given permission to run a real money online gambling site for everyone EXCEPT USA citizens. The website, www.pokertribes.com, is set to roll out this summer. It will focus on social networking and gambling, harnessing the popularity of online poker and the social media phenomenon. We’re actually surprised this wasn’t attempted 10 years ago.
The back story is just as interesting as the news itself. The PokerTribes.com website was up and running as a “free play” operation until April 5, 2013, when Oklahoma Authorities had it shuttered. Apparently running a free play online poker website welcoming Americans was not provisioned in their tribal gaming compact. Each tribes’ representatives had to report approach Governor Mary Fallin to resolve the dispute.
In the subsequent days, it has been characterized as a “misunderstanding”, and all sides came to the table to negotiate an agreement that would be productive for everyone. Ultimately, the Cheyenne and Arapaho were allowed to continue developing their PokerTribes.com website for real money gambling with two conditions: 1) international customers only, no USA citizens are permitted, and 2) The state of Oklahoma would get a 20% cut of all revenues.
This deal is eerily reminiscent of the famous gambling compact made by Connecticut Governor Lowell Weicker in the early 1990s with the Ledyard Mashantucket Pequots, who later built the Foxwoods Resort and Casino, formerly the largest brick and mortar casino in the world (Foxwoods is currently the 3rd largest, behind two mammoth Macau Casinos). Later, the Mohegan tribe of Uncas, Connecticut, built Mohegan Sun. Weicker’s compact gave the state a 25% cut of gross slots revenues. To date, many other Connecticut tribes have tried to get federal recognition required to erect casinos, but have met stiff resistance and red tape. The last strong contender were the Golden Hill Paugussett Indian Tribe of Kent, Connecticut, who lost their bid amid blow back from a local lobbying group that pulled strings at the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C. In recent years the Pequots and Mohegans have begun ramping up for online gaming operations, but have not officially been granted the green light.
It appears the Cheyenne and Arapaho beat their Connecticut counterparts to the punch, scoring another win for legalized online gambling in the United States, if only for non-American customers at the moment. If the Oklahoma tribes can show a consistent flow of income to the state, lawmakers would almost certainly call for accepting American clients, boosting revenues further. In the good old USA, money talks. The tribes will have a compelling argument for accepting USA customers if their international operations prove fruitful.
This somewhat unnoticed development also starts the domino-effect for every other tribe in Oklahoma – and indeed the rest of the United States – hoping to cash in with online gambling. If the Arapaho can run an international gambling site, why can’t the Pequots in Connecticut, or the Seminoles in Florida? Forward thinking tribes could easily open international-customers-only websites, honing their marketing, network infrastructure, and payment processing systems, biding their time until USA customers are welcomed. They would almost immediately be able to compete against Nevada and New Jersey, as many Native American physical casinos do already.
Frankly we’re surprised Native American tribes with gaming compacts aren’t being more aggressive on this issue. If the government has recognized their tribe and lands as sovereign, and given them permission to operate a casino, why would they not have the right to go online? Obviously there might be some inter-state commerce issues, particularly with states unwilling to let their citizens gamble online. It’s likely these barriers will fall in time. In reality, someone in Utah who wants to gamble bad enough can vacation in Nevada. Turning on the computer to access an online casino based on tribal lands in Oklahoma, Atlantic City, or Las Vegas isn’t such a stretch, and simply acquiescing to the natural progression of technology.
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