The California legislature returned for a brief August session on Monday, and the debate between tribes and cardrooms is expected to be a major topic moving forward from now through the end of the session on Aug. 31.
More specifically, a long-contested matter over cardrooms in California could get some clarity if a new bill is passed.
A new measure poised to be introduced this legislative session, Senate Bill 549, would permit tribes to file lawsuits against cardrooms operated by non-tribal organizations in the state if they believe any California cardrooms are violating state laws that prohibit them from offering banked card games.
If passed, the SB 549 would allow tribes to file suit against cardrooms during a three-month period in 2024.
Tribes vs. cardrooms in California
American Indian tribes and cardrooms in California are gearing up for heated debates.
Some proponents of SB 549 feel the Attorney General’s office, by refusing to act against privately run cardrooms, is playing politics with the issue of gaming rights in the state.
In addition, under current California law, many believe the Attorney General lacks the authority to take action against cardrooms operated by private entities not affiliated with tribal lands. That’s why advocates pushed for the inclusion of language in Prop 26 last year to grant that power to the state.
The last day for the legislature to pass bills is Aug 31.
Movement on a cardroom solution would need to occur prior to Sept. 1.
If native tribes are able to file civil lawsuits against cardrooms, they may be able to establish their exclusive right to conduct gaming activity in California. That’s a fear some have for the future of gambling in what is the fifth-largest economy in the world.
Even if the bill passes, it could take 4-10 years to obtain a final court verdict on the legality of California cardroom games. With such far-reaching consequences, it is not out of the question for the case to be brought before the Supreme Court.
Prop 26 impact on SB 549
In 2022, California voters had an opportunity to pass a ballot proposal, Prop 26, that would have given tribes control of sports betting in California. It also would have given California tribes the right to file civil suits against the operators of cardrooms.
However, Prop 26 was soundly defeated at the ballot box.
The author of SB 549 is Sen. Josh Newman (D), who essentially took the language from failed Prop 26 and plopped it into his bill. Opponents of SB 549 could point to the failure of Prop 26 to last year as an argument that such a bill is not desirable.
While California cardrooms are legal and have a long tradition in the Golden State, they have been controversial.
Unlike a casino gaming floor, cardrooms do not have slot machines or other electronic games. Instead, they have tables with seating for popular poker games like Texas Hold’Em, Three-Card Poker or Baccarat.
The state also prohibits the offering of banking games like blackjack. California cardrooms had been skirting the law by offering a variation of blackjack in which a regular player at the table served as the bank against other players. They made their money by collecting fees paid by players to participate in each hand.