California card rooms failed on a third attempt to challenge the qualified tribal sports betting initiative in court.
On Wednesday, the California Supreme Court denied the request for a writ of mandate commanding the Secretary of State to refrain from placing the initiative on the November ballot.
Previous attempts to block the tribal initiative centered around the state’s single-subject rule for ballot propositions. This time, a new cast of card room petitioners challenged the additional time granted to tribes to collect signatures.
Kathy Fairbanks, spokesperson for the Coalition for Safe, Responsible Gaming campaign for the tribal initiative, responded to the denial:
“Today, the California Supreme Court rejected the cardroom casino operators’ third frivolous lawsuit attempting to deny voters the right to vote on the tribal sports wagering measure. The previous two meritless lawsuits were also rejected by the courts.”
She added that the score is voters 3, card rooms 0.
“Hopefully, the cardrooms will quit wasting the court’s time,” Fairbanks said.
Latest card room challenge of tribal initiative
California card rooms are trying to defeat the tribal initiative because it includes a private enforcement provision that would allow any “person or entity” to sue “any person” suspected of violating criminal gambling laws.
Tribes have long contested the legality of the way card rooms offer blackjack using third-party bankers. They believe this provision could lead to lawsuits that would threaten the existence of card rooms.
Plaintiffs in this case are familiar with the desire of tribes to sue them on this issue. All of the card rooms on the filing recently were on the receiving end of a lawsuit from the Rincon Band of Luiseno Mission Indians and Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Mission Indians. The Superior Court of San Diego dismissed the case for lack of standing in 2021.
Seven Mile Casino card room owner Ryan E. Stone led the filing as a voter, taxpayer and resident of California. The following card rooms also served as plaintiffs:
- Commerce Casino in Commerce
- The Bicycle Casino in Bell Gardens
- Gardens Casino in Hawaiian Gardens
- Oceans 11 Casino in Oceanside
- Players Casino in Ventura
- Seven Mile Casino in Chula Vista
- Crystal Casino in Compton
- Sahara Dunes Casino in Lake Elsinore
They filed the suit April 29 against California Secretary of State Shirley Weber. She served as the defendant as the state’s chief elections official. It was an attempt to compel her to keep the initiative off the ballot.
Real parties of interest in the case included the Superior Court of Sacramento for granting the extension, Coalition to Authorize Regulated Sports Wagering, and tribal chairmen Mark Macarro (Pechanga), Edwin Romero (Barona), Anthony Roberts (Yocha Dehe) and Jeff Grubbe (Agua Caliente) for filing the initiative.
Background of lawsuit
California Elections Code imposes a 180-day limit for initiative proponents to collect signatures.
The California Attorney General cleared the tribal sports betting petition to commence circulation on Jan. 21, 2020.
The initiative seemed on the way to qualifying with the 997,139 valid needed signatures before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out.
Although they could no longer qualify for the 2020 election, tribes didn’t want to waste the nearly 1 million raw signatures already collected. So they filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court of Sacramento against then-Secretary of State Alex Padilla.
The petitioners asked for an extension based on the state’s pandemic-related restrictions substantially impairing their signature gathering.
Judge James P. Arguelles granted two extensions, one of 84 days and a second of 63 days.
Details of card room challenge
The challenge from card rooms centers around the second extension.
They argued that the Court’s first ruling stated that the order could only be modified upon “a showing that a constitutional violation is likely to occur.”
They also argued that Superior Courts in California are precluded from substantively modifying relief after judgment is entered.
Yet, the plaintiffs argue, just two months later the court modified the judgment without a hearing or any argument or introduction of evidence. It was based solely on an agreement made between the tribes and the Secretary of State. Therefore, they requested the Court void the second extension based on violating basic principles of civil procedure.
The card rooms contended that Padilla refused to defend this statute and chose to accept claims made by the tribes that two extensions were warranted and necessary in light of COVID restrictions in place during the initiative qualification period.
According to the filing:
“Without a hearing, without any submission of evidence justifying the request, without any showing or finding that a constitutional violation had occurred or was about to occur, and without any opposition, the trial court granted an additional extension request totaling 63 days.”
Tribes ended up getting more than 300 days to circulate their petition.
Card rooms also argue that they should have been real parties of interest, if not indispensable parties, given the threat the initiative poses to the card club industry.
Tribal response to case filing
Tribal lawyers explained that the Superior Court retained jurisdiction specifically to allow a further extension if pandemic restrictions continued. And that such pandemic restrictions did continue through the fall of 2020.
They contended the second extension was not a material or substantial change in the judgment. The additional extension merely adjusted the relief provided by the court’s original determination.
According to the tribal response:
“Petitioners have selectively shaded the facts to try to fit their legal theories, which have no merit. The courts have been clear that they have authority to reserve jurisdiction to modify writ relief as necessary to effectuate the court’s judgment.”
Tribal lawyers also questioned why the plaintiffs waited 18 months to submit their claims of a procedural error in the trial court.
“Petitioners clearly oppose the Initiative and that is their prerogative. They have already spent millions of dollars to oppose it, and unsuccessfully attempted to circulate a petition for their own competing initiative. Having abandoned that attempt, they have been left with trying to remove the Initiative from the ballot. The request for this Court to exercise its original mandamus jurisdiction to remove the Initiative from the ballot as a way of ‘correcting’ an alleged procedural error made in 2020 in the midst of extraordinary circumstances – which Petitioners never sought to correct -is simply a political Hail Mary pass that must be rejected.”