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Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma to Launch Real Money Online Poker Site

PokerTribe.com Logo

The native Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma has announced its intention to develop and open up an online poker room that will accept customers from international jurisdictions as well as legally licensed internet gaming markets within the United States. The website for this endeavor is pokertribe.com.

Publishing Date - January 3, 2016

Iowa Tribe in Partnership With Universal Entertainment Group

Logo of Universal Entertainment Group

Tribal leaders of the Iowa have signed an agreement with Universal Entertainment Group, bringing the Florida company on board as the software partner. The plan is to first deploy virtual poker tables and then other casino games, like blackjack and baccarat, later on. Eventually, the poker room will be opened up to travelers on cruise ships and airline flights.

The Iowa argue that online poker is covered by the tribe's existing compact with the state of Oklahoma, which allows Class III gambling. Live poker is definitely a class III game although no federally recognized tribe has yet successfully launched a site offering multi-jurisdictional online poker or indeed any other form of internet-based real money gaming.

The Iowa Tribe declared to the Oklahoma authorities its intention to proceed with internet gaming last year, causing the state to exercise its right to arbitration, which is enshrined in the OK-Iowa compact. On Nov. 24, the arbitrator, retired judge Charles Chapel, decided that the Iowa's plans involved “merely using technology to play 'covered games'” and did not constitute any violation of the terms of the compact. On Dec. 23, the Iowa Tribe started proceedings in federal court to try to clear away any stumbling blocks that could threaten the enterprise. Assuming all goes smoothly, pokertribe.com will become the first online site hosted within the country to allow those located outside the U.S.A. to play poker against Americans. Oklahoma would get a share of the revenue that will increase as traffic to the site grows.

History of Universal Entertainment Group

The Universal Entertainment Group has had a checkered past. Its co-founder, Fred Khalilian, has had to settle suits with the FTC for millions of dollars related to allegedly fraudulent telemarketing activities. In 2011, he was even banned from the entire telemarketing industry. Perhaps this was why he turned his attention to online gaming.

Fred Khalilian

Fred Khalinian, co-Founder of Universal Entertainment Group

In 2012, Universal Entertainment Group partnered with the Cheyenne and Arapaho, another Oklahoma tribal group, to develop pokertribes.com, with essentially the same idea in mind as the current pokertribe.com effort. The state didn't put up much resistance, but the Federal Department of the Interior raised objections. The Cheyenne and Arapaho filed suit to challenge this ruling. Progress on the software and website was slow, however, and with the election of a new tribal administration in 2014 came the cancelation of the deal after close to $10 million had already been spent. The pending litigation to clarify the status of online poker under tribal gaming law was dropped. For their investment, the tribes basically got just a website without any gaming software, and there were rumors that Khalilian and his colleagues wasted a lot of the money on unnecessary travel and other luxuries.

Flag of the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma

About the Iowa Tribe

The Iowa Tribe is based in Perkins and has about 800 members. In this same city, the tribe operates the Cimarron Casino, and it also runs the Ioway Casino in Chandler. The compact governing the gaming that the tribe is authorized to conduct was published in June 2005. The agreement covers certain specific games, including “nonhouse-banked card games,” which is the category that poker falls into.

What This Portends for Online Poker

Question Mark

Despite the high hopes of the Iowa Tribe, it's unlikely that the pokertribe.com website will be able to attract much custom. Even assuming that the poker room proceeds to fruition and opens up for real money play at some point, its target customers around the world already have plenty of virtual card rooms to choose from. It's difficult to see how the site will be able to get off the ground as a smaller company competing against giants like PokerStars, PartyPoker, and 888. At best, it will probably wind up occupying a tiny niche in the global poker market.


** UPDATE: April 19, 2016 **
A federal judge ruled on April 18 that there's nothing in the Iowa Tribe's gaming compact that would prohibit it from conducting real money gambling online. This confirms the decision previously reached through arbitration. With these legal formalities out of the way, the tribe intends to open up the pokertribe.com poker room shortly.

** UPDATE: May 20, 2016 **
PokerTribe.com is now live…for play money. This news was announced in a press release dated May 18. The website boasts of featuring “the most modern technology available,” but we're skeptical. Anyone who wants to try out the games can get a bonus of 50,000 play chips. The site claims it will launch for real money play Aug. 1.

** UPDATE: Aug. 3, 2016 **
The stated Aug. 1 launch date came and went without any poker for real money appearing at Pokertribe.com. The Iowa Tribe blamed lengthy negotiations with payment processing partners and foreign licensing authorities. The new target date for real money games is Oct. 15.

** UPDATE: Oct. 17, 2016 **
Another launch date passes with another miss by pokertribe.com. There's now a window of “Winter of 2016/17” by which time the site hopes to go fully live for real money cash gaming.

** UPDATE: May 24, 2017 **

Logo of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes

The National Indian Gaming Commission is conducting an investigation into the role of Universal Entertainment Group in the old PokerTribes.com deal with the Cheyenne and Arapaho. This news was reported by The Oklahoman on May 22. A spokesperson for the Cheyenne and Arapaho stated, “A lot of money was paid and nothing was ever received… It was $9.4 million for a website.” Fred Khalilian commented, “We did nothing wrong.” However this situation turns out, it will likely mean further delays for the site, which has been offering play chip games for a year without real money betting being anywhere in sight.

 

** UPDATE: Sept. 25, 2017 **

Flag of the Isle of Man

A subsidiary of the Iowa Tribe, Ioway Internet Gaming Enterprise Limited, has received an online gambling license from the Isle of Man Gambling Supervision Commission. According to Tribe Chairman Bobby Walkup, the license application had been filed in February and approved in June. Unusually, however, there were four conditions attached to the actual issuance of the license, so the time between June and now was spent fulfilling these requirements. Walkup said that the online poker site will go live for real money sometime this fall. He also revealed that all gaming assets involved in the pokertribe.com endeavor would be transferred to another enterprise: one with an “internationally known brand.”

 

** UPDATE: Oct. 1, 2017 **

Cheyenne and Arapaho

Last week, the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, former clients of Universal Entertainment Group, filed suit against the company. They claim that they were the victims of fraud perpetrated by Fred Khalilian and his business partners. The tribes hope to recover $13 million, including $9.45 million that they paid for the website pokertribes.com, which was never in a state to open to customers. Eddie Hamilton, governor of the Cheyenne and Arapaho, stated that he was looking into the possibility of bringing criminal charges against the principals of UEG as well.

 

** UPDATE: Oct. 13, 2017 **
Monster Logo

The identity of the new owner of the PokerTribe-related gaming assets has been revealed, and it's audio equipment manufacturer Monster. At the same time, Fred Khalilian has been brought on board as COO of Monster. Monster Chairman Noel Lee called Khalilian “a genius” although he conceded that Fred was also “an acquired taste.” Whether the worldwide branding potential of Monster along with its huge capital reserves will be able to jump start the stalled pokertribe.com project remains to be seen.