Bruce Bozsum

Online poker and American Indian tribes were the main topic of a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing last week in Washington D.C. Though there’s no online gaming bills currently on the Senate floor, Indian leaders, and their powerful supporters and lobbyists, wanted to make their concerns known before any such legislation gets drafted.

Protecting Tribal Interests

Mohegan Tribe Chairman Bruce Bozsum made very clear his view that some tribal casinos are ready and willing to take on iGaming when, and if, it’s made legal. He pointed to the relatively trouble-free operation of Indian casinos today is a good sign of how they would handle online gaming.

Bozsum also went on to add his own suggestions for how Internet poker might look in its legalized form. His suggestions included:

  • Allowing tribes to accept action from players who are located outside of tribal lands. (Though he didn’t specify if that would include international players.)
  • Those tribal online operations operate under the same tax-free status enjoyed by their brick-and-mortar counterparts.

Not All Tribes Favor iGaming

But not every tribal council is as keen to take up online poker as the Mohegan are. Glen Gobin, the Vice Chairman of the Tulalip Tribe from Washington State, argued that Internet poker would undercut traditional casino operations.

For many tribes, casinos provide a tremendous number of jobs in areas where employment opportunities are few and far between. While online poker would generate cash, it wouldn’t generate support jobs like bar tender, custodian or blackjack dealer.

Former US Senator Al D’Amato was also on hand to testify on the game’s potential impact on Tribal gaming. In his testimony he pointed out that only 1% of Indian gaming revenue comes from poker. (In most parts of the United States, tribal casinos focus mainly on slot machines, blackjack and bingo.) D’Amato is the chairman of the Poker Players Alliance (PPA), an organization that lobbies on behalf of Internet poker companies.

Looking Out for #1

The bottom line expressed by all of the tribal leaders was that Indians want a seat at the table when, and if, online gaming is eventually legalized. Tribal lawyer Penny Coleman noted that many tribes generate as much as 43% of their revenues from gaming and do not want to see that revenue stream jeopardized.

What It Means for Affiliates

For affiliates and webmasters, tribal gaming is a mixed bag of benefits and potential pitfalls. Yes, tribal poker sites could be a boom for affiliates. Larger Indian tribes would likely run large sites and affiliate programs would, presumably ,be part of those sites. But dealing with Tribal gaming also comes with a few catches.

Indian tribes are considered sovereign governments, but are still bound by most Federal laws in the United States. To say that that Indian law is complex is something of an understatement. And, on top of that, there are hundreds of separate Indian tribes and bands.

Large, well-organized tribal gaming operations like Foxwoods would likely have no problem creating well run affiliate programs, smaller tribes might not fare as well. It’s probably safe to say that online poker would be very appealing to smaller bands that simply don’t have the resources of the Mohegans or Tulalips and that could create problems.


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