Aug 16, 2023 - Business

Tribal casinos and card rooms set to escalate dispute in Sacramento

Photo of hands dealing cards on a table with the words "Casino Resort" embroidered in it

The Chumash Casino Resort, located in Santa Ynez Valley and owned by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Mission Indians. Photo: Spencer Weiner/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

A longtime conflict between tribal casinos and operators of card rooms, gambling establishments that offer card games like poker, is gaining steam again as state legislators return to session.

Driving the news: Senate Bill 549 would give tribal nations a three-month window in 2024 to take legal action against card rooms in disputes over the kinds of games featured in the latter.

  • The tensions are rooted in California law, which mandates that card rooms give all players an equal chance at serving as the dealer via rotations.

Why it matters: Tribal nations' ability to operate casinos independent of the state was an arrangement made with the federal government in a bid to attain more control over their economic development.

  • The change led to increased employment and lower mortality among Native Americans after California voters backed a constitutional amendment to enshrine it in law in 2000.

Be smart: The key distinction between card rooms and tribal casinos is the games they're allowed to run.

  • Federally recognized tribes have the freedom to offer slot machines, lottery games and "banked" card games — like traditional blackjack, in which the casino acts as the bank handling wagers.
  • Card rooms can only provide "player-dealer" games, including poker and pai gow.

Context: In recent years, tribal casinos have alleged that card rooms — including some in San José — are violating gambling law and infringing on their exclusive right by offering "banked" card games.

  • The bill replicates Proposition 26, which California voters rejected last November.
  • Both sides are expected to pump a lot of political money into their campaigns as the Legislature reconvenes this week, CalMatters reports.

The big picture: California is considered the birthplace of tribal casinos largely due to the 1987 Supreme Court ruling in California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, which affirmed that tribes have the sovereignty to operate casinos on reservation lands that fall outside state jurisdiction.


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