Santa Ysabel Tribe responds to California AG Lawsuit

Written By Steve Ruddock on November 26, 2014
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Beginning in the summer, the Santa Ysabel Tribe in California has been intimating that they will be going ahead with plans to launch an online poker site with or without the state’s blessing. After several false alarms the tribe switched gears earlier this month and instead launched a real-money online bingo site, with promises of an online poker room down the road.

As we reported earlier in the week, the California Attorney General, Kamala Harris, sees things differently, and is challenging the Santa Ysabel’s tribe’s right to offer online gambling.

California files suit

To the surprise of no one, the legality of Santa Ysabel’s online bingo site,, is being challenged, with California AG Harris having already filed a Complaint and Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against the tribe’s online offerings.

One of the many points of contention (and something that has not been settled in court at this time) is whether Class II gaming over the Internet is the same as Class II gaming that legally occurs on tribal lands.

According to the injunction, “The Tribe is reaching out to Californians irrespective of whether they are on its Indian lands. IGRA does not allow this. The UIGEA does not allow this. The Compact does not allow this.”

Additionally, the complaint hits upon a specific word that appears in Class II Gaming laws in California, “facsimile,” and the result of the lawsuit could very well come down to the definition of this word as it applies to gambling.

“Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel… has begun to offer a facsimile of bingo over the internet to bettors who are not located on the tribe’s Indian lands,” the complaint states. “In addition to violating state and federal law, the tribe’s conduct materially breaches the tribal-state class III gaming compact between the tribe and the state.”

Martin Shapiro was among the first people to call into the question the legality of what the tribe was attempting to do, and although opinions differ on the subject, Shapiro’s line of thinking seems to be along the same lines as the California AG, as he made similar arguments:

“To meet the IGRA restrictions, the card games have to be non-house banked, played legally by anyone else in the state, not an ‘electronic facsimile’ of the game and conducted on Indian lands. Online poker is non-house-banked just like live poker. The other three restrictions require a closer look.”

Santa Ysabel response

The Santa Ysabel responded to the state’s injunction, saying it “lacked both substance and merit,” and was an assault on tribal sovereignty.

The response goes on to call the lawsuit a leveraging tactic, aimed at weakening the tribes as the state pushes forward with potential legalization and regulation of online poker:

“It is a thinly veiled attempt to weaken tribal governments as the State prepares to negotiate compacts with many of the California Tribes.”

Despite protestations such as, “This action by the State should be of great concern to all Tribes in California and elsewhere,” it’s unlikely the Santa Ysabel is going to find many sympathetic ears. In a recent interview with iGaming Business, Pechanga Chairman Mark Macarro said of the Santa Ysabel’s efforts:

“Their direction is not however one our tribe would pursue. We continue to see greater certainty and prudence in working with the state on a government-to government basis… which is a view shared by most other tribes with large brick and mortar operations in California.”

Like many things surrounding the previously inconsequential tribe, their motives and their ultimate end game is still a matter of debate.


Here is the full statement from the Santa Ysabel tribe:

Cruz Bustamante, spokesman for Santa Ysabel Interactive, an enterprise of the Santa Ysabel Tribal Development Corporation issued the following statement responding to the State of California’s lawsuit that attempts to severely undermine the inherent sovereign rights of the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel and its Class II gaming rights under federal law pursuant to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

“The complaint filed this week by the State of California against the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel lacks both substance and merit and attacks tribal sovereignty. We look forward to having the opportunity to demonstrate the legality, regulatory veracity and consumer safety of the Tribe’s interactive Class II bingo enterprise.

“With this lawsuit, the State of California is attacking the sovereignty of all tribes. The suit is intent on obstructing the rights and economic vitality afforded to federally-recognized Indian tribes under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). The State’s misguided attack completely ignores existing federal regulations and guidelines encompassed in the Cabazon Decision of the United States Supreme Court, which remains the law of the land. It is a thinly veiled attempt to weaken tribal governments as the State prepares to negotiate compacts with many of the California Tribes. This action by the State should be of great concern to all Tribes in California and elsewhere because it reflects a tactic that if successful would set a dangerous legal precedent that could be used in other jurisdictions to undermine and attack tribal sovereignty.”

“Santa Ysabel Interactive and the Santa Ysabel Gaming Commission (SYGC) have constructed a business model and regulatory structure that is completely transparent and compliant with all applicable SYGC and NIGC regulations. The transparency is such that the SYGC regulations are and have been available to the public for months on the SYGC website. The Tribe has invited various California state and federal officials to review operations on a government-to-government basis. As of today, no representative from the office of the California Governor has accepted the invitation to visit the reservation to discuss Santa Ysabel Interactive.”

Santa Ysabel Interactive and the Santa Ysabel Gaming Commission ( are committed to offering a safe, exciting and secure, quality real-money interactive gaming experience for legal California residents.

Always Gamble Responsibly. If you need help please call 1.800.GAMBLER (1-800-426-2537) Or text the word “support” to 53342.

About the Iipay Nation: The Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel is a federally recognized tribe in Southern California.

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Steve Ruddock

Steve Ruddock is a longtime member of the online gambling industry. He covers the regulated US online casino and poker industries for variety of publications, including,,, and USA Today.

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