California Tribes Say “Illegal” Card Games Costing Them Millions

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California’s Native American tribes believe card games that they deem illegal are costing them around $100 million each year. A panel discussed how this is happening and what steps tribes are taking to address the issue at a press conference at the Western Indian Gaming Conference held at the Pechanga Casino Resort.

Let’s explore the primary concerns of the tribe and examine the potential implications for the online sportsbooks industry.

Cash Clash

The state law says only California tribes can entertain certain types of gambling. However, California card rooms still offer games that are not allowed. The tribes say this is because the state’s politicians are afraid of fighting with each other over policy issues. They also say the state won’t let them take the card clubs to court.

Susan Jensen, who leads the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, stressed that tribes want cardrooms to follow the rules and consider the financial effects on Indigenous communities.

The tribes argue that the pandemic gave them a chance to look closely at the issue. They estimate they lost over $100 million annually, using financial reports from the 14 months when tribes were open while cardrooms were shut down.

What’s the Core Issue?

Current California law makes some gambling games illegal, yet cardrooms still run them with a “player-dealer” trick.

In concept, players at a cardroom table should be offered the chance to be the bank, making the game player-banked instead of house-banked. Although cardrooms offer guests the chance to bank, most decline, and so cardrooms use “player-dealer” to act as the bank. This causes arguments about who is the bank in the game.

Coalition Hopes to Bring About Change

A coalition of tribes, led by the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, located in southeast San Diego County, is currently advocating for a bill that would grant the tribes official recognition within the state legislature.

The Viejas Tribe’s lawyer, Tuari Bigknife, said the tribes have a right to gambling exclusivity, but the state won’t let them sue the card rooms that break the rules. SB 549 is a bill that would let all the tribes and cardrooms join one big lawsuit in Sacramento.

James Siva, the leader of a group of Indian gaming tribes, said SB 549 would make it clear how both tribes and card rooms can legally coexist in the future.

The Senate passed the bill with no opposition last May. However, it got stuck after one House committee approved it. The House Committee on Governmental Organization is now looking at it, but they haven’t scheduled a hearing yet.

The Battle Is Far From Over

The lawsuit could involve tribes, card rooms, banked-card companies and even the state, with the tribes aiming to resolve the issue once and for all. However, they acknowledge the associated risks.

“We simply need our day in court to present our case,” stated Marc Macarro, chairman of the Pechanga Band of Indians and president of the National Congress of Native Americans. “There’s a chance we might encounter a judge who doesn’t rule in our favor. But at least we’ll have had the opportunity to make our argument.”

“We want our day in court, and if the card rooms feel that what they are doing is legal, they should have no problem,” said Leo Sisco, chairman of the Tachi Yokut Tribe. “Some of the legislators have card rooms in their districts, and they just don’t want to play politics.”

Only time will tell.