Tribes are pushing for bill SB 549

California tribes allege $100 million annual loss to "illegal" card-room games, purse legislative solution

Reading time 1:37 min

California's gaming tribes claim they are being "cheated" out of $100 million annually, as revealed during a panel at the Western Indian Gaming Conference at the Pechanga Casino Resort.

The tribes argue that despite having exclusivity for certain gambling types under state law, California cardrooms have been offering banned games for decades, US Bets reported.

The tribes, led by the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, are pushing for SB 549, a bill that would grant them standing through the state legislature to sue the card clubs. The plan is that tribes, cardrooms, banked-card companies, and even the state could be a party to the lawsuit.

“At its core, it’s about tribal access to constitutionally guaranteed exclusivity. But the tribes don’t have the right to go to court. SB 549 authorizes a single lawsuit in superior court in Sacramento [that every stakeholder could join],” Tuari Bigknife, attorney general for the Viejas Tribe, was quoted as saying to the report.

Under current California law, specified gambling games are prohibited, yet cardrooms have operated games using a "player-dealer position," leading to disputes over player-banked versus house-banked games.

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" services to bank the games.

Introduced in 2023, SB 549, faces uncertainties in the legislative process. It underwent amendments by Sen. Josh Newman, representing parts of eastern Los Angeles County, central Orange County, and western San Bernardino County. The bill unanimously passed the Senate in May, progressed through one House committee, but faced a stall. In January, it was referred to the House Committee on Governmental Organization, with no scheduled hearing date.

Senator Josh Newman's narrow amendment to SB 549 limits the legal action and does not allow for monetary damages. The tribes, motivated by financial losses during COVID-19 shutdowns, aim to address the alleged discrepancy and seek compliance with existing laws without shutting down cardrooms, the report said.

Susan Jensen, the executive director for the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, emphasized the tribes' desire for cardrooms to operate within the law while addressing the financial impact on Indian Country. The tribes assert that the pandemic provided a unique opportunity to assess the situation, projecting annual losses exceeding $100 million based on audited financial statements during the 14-month period when tribes remained open while card rooms were closed.

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