The California Supreme Court folded an effort by card rooms to invalidate the in-person tribal sports wagering initiative.
But petitioners plan to change tables and play another hand.
Hollywood Park Casino and Parkwest Casino Cordova filed the lawsuit Dec. 21 against Shirley Weber. As California Secretary of State, Weber certified the ballot measure.
Petitioners asked for the Supreme Court to issue a writ of mandate ordering Weber to enforce California’s single-subject rule to invalidate the initiative. They also asked for a stay preventing placement of the measure on the ballot until the issue is decided.
On Wednesday the seven-justice Supreme Court denied those requests. But that doesn’t mean the card room effort is over.
Maurice Suh, a partner for Los Angeles-based law firm Gibson Dunn, told PlayCA that he will refile the case in California Superior Court.
He explained that the Supreme Court denied taking the case but did not issue an opinion with the order. All this means is the petitioners will have to take a longer route to try to block the initiative.
Suh made the following statement:
“We look forward to presenting our case to the Superior Court and proving that the Tribes’ initiative violates California law by hitching two unpopular wish-list measures to a sports-wagering initiative. The California Supreme Court has the freedom to choose the cases it wants to hear and, in particular, it has the option of deciding to not hear a case immediately. While we are disappointed that the Supreme Court chose not to hear this critically important case now, this is not the end of the case but rather the beginning. The law now allows us to bring this case in the Superior Court, and that is exactly what we will do.’’
Background of court filing
Tribal chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, Barona Band of Mission Indians, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, and Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation filed the initiative in November of 2019. It limits sports wagering to in person at tribal casinos and horse racetracks.
After a long signature gathering process delayed by the pandemic, the initiative qualified last May for the November 2022 ballot.
California card rooms have contributed more than $24 million to an opposition campaign to the tribal initiative. They claim the measure really is about forcing card rooms out of business with a clause allowing tribal casinos to sue their competitors.
With this lawsuit, the card rooms argued that the initiative violates the California Constitution’s single-subject rule. The rule disallows ballot initiatives embracing more than one subject.
Petitioners asserted that the initiative addresses three distinct subjects:
- Legalizing sports wagering.
- Eliminating California’s ban on Las Vegas-style casinos by authorizing gaming tribes to add roulette and dice games.
- Expanding the Private Attorneys General Act to allow tribes to sue card rooms for alleged violations of the penal code.
Tribal parties of interest countered that these all fall under the subject of gaming.
Moving the lawsuit to lower court
The card rooms were hoping to skip the lower courts and go right to the state supreme court because of the short timeframe prior to the election.
Petitioners sought an expedited review to resolve the election issues prior to the Sept. 2 ballot-printing deadline.
If the measure appeared on the ballot after being declared invalid, that could unfairly take away from another sports betting initiative expected to make the ballot.
A post-election review could waste governmental resources. Steps to execute the measure might begin before the final ruling on the initiative.
Suh said he expects to take the case back to the California Supreme Court through the regular path. Since he already filed multiple briefs with the higher court, it shouldn’t take long to get the new case going.
Tribal coalition claims victory for now
Regardless of the future direction of legal challenges by card rooms, it’s a victory for tribes to have the Supreme Court reject the request to find the initiative unconstitutional.
Kathy Fairbanks, spokesperson for the Coalition for Safe, Responsible Gaming that backs the tribal initiative, responded to the denial:
“We’re pleased but not surprised the court rejected this frivolous lawsuit. The campaign in opposition to our measure is being led by card room casino operators who are frequent violators of California gaming laws and have been fined more than $8 million for misleading state regulators and violating anti-money laundering laws. We’re confident California voters will see through their deceptive and wasteful tactics and continue to stand with California Tribes who they have entrusted to provide safe, responsible gaming for over two decades.”