by Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – Enquiring minds want to know: Whatever happened to PokerTribes.com?
Sixteen months ago, Oklahoma was on the verge of a stunning transformation for its Native-owned gaming industry, in wake of a cooperative agreement between Gov. Mary Fallin and Gov. Janice Prairie-Chief Boswell, leader of the Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes.
That compact, deemed a settlement agreement, would have banned a tribal-run social gaming network accessible in the continental United States. (That was Fallin’s objective.) Meanwhile, however, the Two Tribes could have moved forward with an internationally-accessible site subject to the compact. (http://watchdog.org/78472/ok-gov-fallin-signs-trio-of-agreements-with-cheyenne-arapaho-tribes/)
Revenues generated at that site would have been subject to a 20 percent levy, … and that money would have gone to the Oklahoma government.
The classic win-win for Oklahomans of all stripes, right?
Preparations began for a start-up and launch. In a NASCAR analogy, Oklahoma was at the pole position for worldwide impact through iGaming, including global online Poker and online Casino operations (http://www.capitolbeatok.com/reports/fallin-signs-trio-of-agreements-with-gov-boswell-for-cheyenne-amp-arapaho-tribes-of-oklahoma).
Then, one year ago this month, at the onramp of the information highway, tribal online gaming hit a chughole. That came in the form of a Department of Interior letter declaring the Fallin-Boswell compact in violation of technical aspects of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
No problem, at first: A new accord, addressing those concerns was promptly crafted. Fallin, Bowell and other appropriate authorities approved that in September 2013. (http://www.capitolbeatok.com/reports/revised-gaming-settlement-agreement-for-cheyenne-arapaho-and-state-of-oklahoma-goes-to-feds)
Throughout that spring and summer of 2013, leaders of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association (OIGA) welcomed the opportunity, as a spokesman put it at the time, for a member tribe or tribes to join the “rapidly changing and developing international gaming industry. Worldwide projections show the annual marketplace to be at $30 billion. This is the next step in generating much needed revenue for Oklahoma Tribes and the State of Oklahoma.”
What’s curious about the delay since those heady days among the advocates of an Oklahoma home for this multi-billion industry is that no one did anything wrong.
Fallin’s legal position is sound, and Boswell’s accommodation of the state’s domestic gaming concerns was rational. Respect for sovereignty worked, or could have worked, both ways.
The framework for agreements between tribes and the state, under structures in place since 2005, allow sovereign negotiations over anything of value – in this case, the operational system (now available for viewing at PokerTribe.com) for iGaming worldwide. The accord addressed every nuance, including an old state Supreme Court decision on the “free play” issue.
Going forward, the state of Oklahoma could, given the opportunity, move forward on all the logic and argumentation behind the original April 2013 agreement and the later amendments (albeit with a new tribal accord and technical revisions, including the singular name, because of the C&A turmoil).
To be absolutely clear, Gov. Fallin and her legal team sought compact negotiations, to allow economic development but without bringing online gaming, per se, into the state. That concern was addressed in the compact, and can easily be duplicated and adjusted to new circumstances.
Nothing in the legal picture has fundamentally changed. What has changed is the political context, not to mention the rapid emergence of alternative international platforms for iGaming.
Tribal and state campaigns (including a regime change for the C&As) unfolded, but elections are not always impediments to fairness.
PokerTribe.com is resting patiently in cyberspace, awaiting a tribal partner.
It is a “turn-key” operation, technologically. Federal interference in the state-tribal agreement gummed things up, but that is not a technological issue.
Brian Foster, who runs OIGA, points repeatedly at emergence of those “ready-to-go” international competitors to make his practical case: an Oklahoma-based operation or operations will get into this game soon, or the door will forever close on the opportunity to be the first with the most in iGaming.
The beat goes on, in the summer heat.
In the American heartland, this week brings more than 2,500 gaming industry professionals to Oklahoma City for the 2014 conference and trade show of OIGA, the Oklahoma Indiana Gaming Association Foster serves.
The wide hallways of the Cox Convention Center will buzz and bing with exhibits of gaming equipment, at vendor booths touting technology. Everyone present will be focused on “all aspects of the Indian Gaming industry,” as organizers put it.
Discussion of PokerTribe.com (and the alternative online gaming venues) will be a topic over drinks, at meals and in deliberations about the future of Indian gaming.
And that future rushes in, waiting for no one.
International technology companies are among those now active in Oklahoma, coming here to try to control the situation through exclusive contracts for “free play” sites. This would challenge the tenets of the 2005 compact.
The Bulgarian State Gambling commission in February granted an operator’s license for an online poker operation. PokerStars.bg launched last week, and, a spokesman for the Rational Group, the owner/operator, says the group aims to be the first-in-market for world access.
Residents of Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware can now play for real money. They’re getting positioned for the big, worldwide, play.
In Oklahoma, where the basis for entry into that lucrative worldwide market was laid in Fallin’s compact, other tribes are searching for collaborations.
Like many other foreign interests, the tempo of involvement in state-side transactions in increasing.
In July, IGT (International Game Technology), known as a slot market leader, was sold to an Italian company known for its role in the lottery games (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-07-16/gtech-agrees-to-buy-slot-machine-maker-igt-for-4-7-billion.html).
Poker Stars, which garnered international headlines in a clash with the government just three years ago, wants to come home (http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887324787004578493011807051422).
An Australian bought VGT (Video Gaming Technologies), based in Tennessee, in early July (http://www.bizjournals.com/nashville/blog/2014/07/franklin-based-video-gaming-technologies-sold-for.html).
This month, Scientific Games secured more industry market share with the purchase of slot-maker Bally Technologies (http://online.wsj.com/articles/scientific-games-to-buy-bally-technologies-1406893130).
Are these acquisitions under way to improve America’s “brick-and-mortar” gaming presence, or is it a reasonable surmise there might be other reasons for coming to the U.S. to spend money?
To bring everything home: Whatever happened to worldwide gaming from an Oklahoma base of operations, you ask? It’s still there, but will anyone turn the key, or will international interests come to control the Oklahoma tribes through alternative free play sites that violate the 2005 compact?
This bears repeating:
The transformational framework for online gaming – without bringing the poker-playing ability into the U.S. domestic market – still exists, awaiting a formal tribal partner from among Oklahoma’s 39 federally-recognized tribes.
And, make no mistake: If a simple reboot of the earlier accord does not come quickly, with a new partner for the state, an opportunity at billions of dollars in voluntary exchange – including a boost for state government revenues worth hundreds of millions of dollars, without a tax increase on the state population– will be lost.
NOTE: McGuigan is publisher of The City Sentinel, and editor of CapitolBeatOK.com .