Committee voted 15-1 to pass SB549

California lawmakers advance bill enabling tribes to challenge cardrooms in court

Reading time 1:37 min

A California Assembly committee has advanced a bill granting tribes the right to defend their exclusive gaming rights through lawsuits against cardrooms, reviving a long-standing dispute.

The Assembly Governmental Organization Committee voted 15-1 on Tuesday to pass the Tribal Nations Access to Justice Act (SB549), sponsored by Sen. Josh Newman. This legislation allows tribes to file lawsuits in California courts to resolve disputes over house-banked games like blackjack and baccarat.

Sen. Newman says that the bill does not favor either side but simply permits the courts to address the issue. "What you are doing today is not making a decision that favors one side or another. You’re simply allowing for the tribes to have standing to go to a court of law in California to ask that court to rule on this question," Newman said.

Cardrooms in California have operated since the 1800s, but state laws and the California State Lottery Act of 1984 prohibit Nevada- and New Jersey-style casino gaming. Proposition 1A in 2000 allowed Indian tribes to offer certain games exclusively on tribal lands. However, cardrooms have utilized third-party proposition players to fill player-dealer positions, leading to the current legal conflict.

Tribal lawsuits against cardrooms have previously been dismissed due to the tribes' lack of standing in state courts. SB549 aims to resolve this by allowing tribes to file a limited declaratory and relief action to determine the legality of specific cardroom games.

Tribal leaders, including James Siva of the California Nations Indian Gaming and Catalina Chacon of the Pechanga Band of Indians, expressed support for the bill, seeking clear legal guidance on the issue. "SB549 is a straightforward measure that provides a fair and reasonable pathway to allow an impartial court to decide once and for all whether certain games operated by cardrooms constitute banked card games that violate California law and tribal gaming exclusivity," Siva said.

Opponents, including attorney Ed Manning and San Jose City Council member Sergio Jimenez, argued that the bill would unfairly target cardrooms legally operating under state approval. Jimenez highlighted the economic impact on cities reliant on cardroom tax revenues, stating: "This bill would inject uncertainty into city budgets across the state at times when revenue levels and economic activity are just beginning to stabilize after the COVID-19 pandemic."

Despite the bill’s advancement, its future remains uncertain with the legislative session resuming on August 5. SB549 must pass through the Assembly Appropriations Committee, the Assembly floor, and potentially the Senate Governmental Organization Committee before a final vote.

Leave your comment
Subscribe to our newsletter
Enter your email to receive the latest news
By entering your email address, you agree to Yogonet's Condiciones de uso and Privacy Policies. You understand Yogonet may use your address to send updates and marketing emails. Use the Unsubscribe link in those emails to opt out at any time.