Desert Rose Bingo has been ordered to shut down following a U.S. District Judge’s decision to grant a Temporary Restraining Order. District Judge Anthony Battaglia issued the TRO on Friday after determining that gaming at Desert Rose Bingo was actually Class III gaming and not Class II as argued by the tribes.
Gaming Ruled Computer Facsimile – Therefore Class III
On of the tribe’s primary arguments was that online bingo was Class II gaming. At Desert Rose Bingo, players could chose which games to play and how many cards to purchase but actually game play was to take place on reservation through a VPN style client.
Judge Battaglia then looked into how gaming was conducted on Desert Rose Bingo and demonstrations by defendants actually helped play a rule in his ruling. Defendants showed a video of how the games are played and the only actions taken by players are selecting the cards and the dollar amount. From there, the computer plays the game for the user.
This was key in the judge’s ruling because under IGRA, any electronic devices that translates the game into a facsimile of the original game is actually considered Class III gaming. Judge Battaglia was keen to point out while there are enhancements in live bingo halls, the players still have either to track their cards or have someone else track their cards for them. There is some type of interaction required by the player during the game play.
At Desert Rose Bingo, the player chooses the game and how many cards they want to play. From there, everything else is done by the computer. As such, Judge Battaglia ruled that the game was a computer facsimile and Class III gaming under IGRA.
Online Bingo Also Violates the UIGEA
Judge Battaglia also ruled that online bingo violated the UIGEA. He recognized that Indian tribes are exempt from the definition of “unlawful internet gambling” if the wagers are authorized by applicable tribal ordinances or applicable tribal-state compacts. Even so, the location of where these bets are made is important.
He pointed to an opinion letter from 2000 drafted by Kevin Washburn, general counsel for the National Indian Gaming Commission. In that letter, Washburg contended that because not all of the gaming for online bingo occurred on Indian lands, internet bingo fell outside both Class II and Class III gaming compacts and could be prosecuted by the state or federal government. He even concluded the letter saying, “In essence, we are confident that Congress did not intend to allow the play of bingo to be extended outside of Indian lands.”
What’s Next for Desert Rose Bingo
Battaglia has ordered by tribal officials meet with the state to expedite the schedule of a show cause hearing where the tribe will try to argue why the State’s motion for an injunction should not be granted. If they do not reach an agreement by December 26, parties are ordered to contact Presiding Magistrate Judge Nita L. Stormes to set a Rule 16 hearing.
Unless the Santa Ysabel can convince the judge that their gaming is not a computer facsimile or bingo, it is hard to see them preventing an injunction on this matter. The “proxy betting” system run by a computer eliminates any true human interaction in the game and really is little more than a bingo slot machine.
This also all but puts an end of any realistic hope for the tribe launching online poker in the near future. Not that most expected online poker to actually launch, but if online bingo can’t pass a legal challenge, poker certainly will fail.