The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians became an established reservation in 1891 and has inhabited the San Bernardino highlands since before America’s inception. They are a federally recognized Serrano Indian tribe and are also recognized as a sovereign nation that has the right to self-governance. This has given the band the role of arbiter when it comes to decision-making processes.

The band has had its share of hardships and tribulations over the years. Despite these difficulties, they have successfully retained their autonomy and have held onto their unique brand of governance. They have always striven for the betterment of their citizens, and through a strong work ethic have given their people a chance to succeed and progress.

The San Manuel Band has succeeded in establishing themselves as a governing body. Their reservation is fully supported and is an economic force in southern California. The band employs nearly 3000 people and is a primary employer in the Inland Empire region of California, which is the 13th most populated region in the United States. The tribal council looks after many governmental institutions and services, with their own fire department, public safety division, education, and environment agencies.

Suffice to say, the San Manuel Band has been accomplishing the American dream since their inception. That’s why, in 1986, they decided to involve themselves in the casino business. The San Manuel Indian band invested in a high-stakes bingo operation that became extremely successful and profitable.

The bingo hall’s success led the band to build a 100,000 square foot casino. They spared no expense, investing in a beautiful card room and slot machines. Soon after opening, they rebranded the buildings at San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino, and have since become not only popular but very profitable.

To build on their success, they pursued an amenity project for their area, which was opened in January of 2005. It resulted in a roughly $200 million economic stimulus for their reservation, which only bolstered their position as a true economic powerhouse in the state of California.

Much of their profits go towards the betterment of roadways, philanthropy, and beautifying the surrounding area. They are dedicated to giving back to not only their community but to surrounding communities as well.

The San Manuel Amphitheatre has held some massive shows over the years and is owned and operated by the band. Notably, the amphitheater has hosted Ozzfest, the heavy rock and metal show featuring Ozzy Osbourne, and other metal acts such as Lamb of God, 3 Inches of Blood, Motley Crue, and Apocalyptica.

The San Manuel band has been involved in the poker arena for many years. Their poker room is accommodating and well loved by casual poker players across southern California. In 2008, they hosted a charity poker tournament to raise awareness for the Not On Our Watch Project. This project advocates global humanitarian efforts, focusing primarily on Africa. This charity is backed by famous actors such as George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Don Cheadle.

In recent years, the San Manuel band has gotten very involved in the online poker world. They are staunch advocates for the growth of the online gambling industry and have made it a mission to aid in its growth.

The band has joined with the Morongo Mission Indians, the Rincon, and Pala Luiseno Indians, and the United Auburn Indian Community to push an online poker bill through the California statehouse. These bands have sided with card rooms and Amaya Inc., who owns PokerStars.

As horse racing lobbyist Robyn Black of Eclipse Government Affairs said,
“This is the biggest coalition yet behind Internet poker. If we get consumer groups, you’re going to see the coalition grow. If it isn’t a success in 2015, it will be a force in 2016.”

A coalition consisting of the Pechanga and Agua Caliente bands – which numbers nearly nine tribes – is vehemently opposed to the bill. They accuse PokerStars of accepting U.S. wagers after the enactment of the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act.

These bands are in disagreement and have dismissed any notion of consensus. This has upset tribal unity, and various insiders believe that a truce is necessary for the bill to pass successfully.

Jeff Grubbe, a spokesperson for the Pechanga/Agua Caliente coalition, stated, “No bill is better than a bad bill. We’re more than happy to not even have internet gaming. We’re fine with that.”

The meetings between the two sides have been fruitless to say the least. Neither side is happy with the other. As lobbyist David Quintana said in August, “Race tracks and PokerStars are insisting they be involved in this. If race tracks agreed to take a revenue share instead of a website license and if PokerStars stepped out of the picture we would have had iPoker six months ago.”

The San Manuel band and their branch of supporters believe they can generate the political support required to push the online poker bill through the house.

“The tribes on our side of the issue are fairly coordinated in terms of what we hope will be a good, strong run the balance of this session,” stated George Forman, attorney for the Morongo Band of Mission Indians.

The “coalition of the willing” launched an ad campaign and the website californians4poker.com to spread their message to the voting public. They also sponsored an in-state celebrity poker tour to add to their efforts.

“For the first time in nearly seven years there is significant momentum on internet poker legislation,” said Rincon chairman Bo Mazzetti. Rincon’s casino is managed by Caeser’s Entertainment, which is a lobbying partner of Pokerstars and the owner of the World Series of Poker.

The bills in question are AB 167 and AB 431. AB 167 extends licenses to racing associations. AB 431 is a “shell” online poker bill, and both have a chance to reach a floor vote.

Racetracks are fighting for the right for licensure, which is why the bill is taking longer than expected. Racetracks would like to take a percentage of the revenue generated by online gaming, and coming to terms with the parties involved has been a struggle. The tribes are divided due to this portion of the agreement, and would no doubt come together should the requirement for licensure be removed.

The LA Times posted editorials regarding the matter. The editorial outlined the facts of the matter and what the parties and legislators need to do to have the legislation passed. They state matter-of-factly that “an enormous number of Californians are playing poker online already” and that “establishing a legal, regulated poker system would also enable the state to track and tax gambling revenue, raising money for oversight and enforcement.”

The Times went on to state that “a regulated online poker industry is better for the public than the unregulated and illegal games found today in the underground internet.” These sentiments are exactly what the San Manuel band are fighting for and only helps their case for online poker coming to the state of California.

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