Protests Build Against California Tribes Challenge To Card Rooms

Protests by gambling workers have erupted in the California capital, Sacramento, against a controversial legislative bill that would allow Tribal gaming groups to challenge commercial card rooms in the state.

Last week California’s Assembly Governmental Organisation Committee voted overwhelmingly, by a margin of 15:1, to pass Senate Bill 549, The Tribal Nations Access to Justice Act, which would give California’s tribes the right to challenge and prevent commercial card rooms from offering house-banked games, like blackjack and Pai Gow.

SB549 has now progressed to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

It is pivotal in settling a decade-long dispute between the parties. If passed, the bill would give the state’s tribes “limited declaratory and injunctive relief” to sue private card rooms in California’s courts.

Hitherto, because the tribes are classified as independent nations, they have been unable to mount legal challenges in state courts.

Under current California law, Indian tribes have exclusive rights to offer casino slots, roulette, craps, blackjack and other banked games.

At the same time, non-tribal state-licensed card rooms can also offer games where players compete against each other.

But they cannot offer games where they, the cardroom, acts as the House or Bank.

Nevertheless, in a complex–and some would argue morally suspect–workaround; many cardrooms effectively offer house-banked games by contracting so-called Third-Party-Proposition Players, or TPPPs, to act as the House or Bank in their cardrooms.

Because the hosting cardroom and TPPPs are technically separate businesses, the cardrooms claim this system does not break the law — and, crucially, the gambling compacts between Native American tribes and the California state.

But tribal gambling entities have long challenged this cosy relationship between the cardrooms and TPPPs. They claim that it impacts their exclusive gaming rights – and is thus illegal.

Now, with SB549, they’ve upped the stakes and their fightback.


The outcome of the dispute could have broad implications for the billion-dollar, non-tribal, California gambling industry.

According to the California Gambling Association (CGA), the trade association of licensed cardrooms, it employs 32,425 people, delivers US$499 million (£390m) in tax revenue, and generates some US$5 billion (£3.9bn) of economic activity annually.

And since Senator Josh Newman introduced SB549 in February, protests against the bill have erupted across California.

The most recent protest occurred last week when over 100 cardroom workers, politicians and local mayors gathered in Sacramento to oppose SB549.

Their main concerns were reduced employment opportunities and the potential economic hit to cities dependent on cardrooms.

The cardrooms and the CA Gaming Association have been instrumental in funding and organising lobbying efforts against SB549.

During the protest, demonstrators held placards reading “No on SB549” and “Bad Bet For California”.

SB549 has now been referred to the Assembly Appropriations Committee, which reviews all bills with any fiscal impact after passage.

But it remains uncertain whether the bill will progress.

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