Employees Protest Bill That Could Allow Tribes To Sue Card Rooms

Written By C.J. Pierre on December 11, 2023 - Last Updated on December 13, 2023
A picture of a protest for a story about California card room employees protesting against new legislation.

Los Angeles-area cardroom employees and supporters took to the streets recently to protest legislation filed by a local lawmaker.

They argue the bill could lead to extensive job and income losses for their industry. The fear is that the bill will give California tribal casinos the ability to shut down the state’s card rooms.

The rally was held outside the office of Sen. Josh Newman, a Democrat representing Fullerton. Newman sponsored Senate Bill 549, adding a decades-long conflict between California card rooms and tribal casinos.

Some believe tribal casinos want to get rid of competition from cardrooms

Holding signs that say “Say no to 549” and “549 is a bad bet,” cardroom employees rallied outside Newman’s office. Opponents of the bill say California casinos are trying to eliminate the competition. The office was closed during the rally.

The protest was organized in opposition to SB 549, also known as the Tribal Declaratory Relief Act of 2023. The bill would allow California tribal casinos to take legal action against cardroom operators they believe are running “banking card games.”

Under California law, card rooms are not allowed to offer house-backed games. The tribes have exclusivity over those games. For example, card rooms are not allowed to offer blackjack and baccarat.

On the other hand, federally recognized tribes can offer slot machines, lottery games and “banking card games.” Meanwhile, cardrooms can only provide “player-dealer games.” The distinction was mostly so card rooms could spread poker games. But operators have begun using third parties to back the games, which technically keep them in

In the current legal landscape, tribal casinos can’t take civil actions against cardrooms due to their status as sovereign nations.

Opponents of bill fear job loss

Opponents of SB 549 fear the legislation could put cardrooms in a tough spot. They say it would put the jobs of thousands of people at risk. The belief is that the bill would cause cardrooms to face unnecessary and costly lawsuits from tribal casinos, potentially resulting in significant job losses and business closures.

Keith Sharp, president of the California Cardroom Alliance, told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune that the bill is a ploy by the tribes to get rid of some competition.

“SB 549 is a thinly veiled attempt to close down cardrooms by the same few wealthy tribes who have failed in their repeated attempts to shut us down for years,” said Sharp.

Sharp compared SB 549 to the Prop 26 ballot measure, which California cardrooms opposed and voters rejected in 2022. Prop 26, backed by California tribes, would have allowed in-person California sports betting at the state’s tribal casinos and horse racing venues. However, opponents noted that it would have also allowed tribal casinos to run roulette and dice games while dictating the kinds of games the California cardrooms could offer.

Now, opponents of SB 549 say the bill’s impact on cardrooms would cut about $500 million in tax revenue statewide. It is also estimated that California and local communities would lose $5.6 billion in economic output generated by cardrooms and 32,000 jobs that generate $1.6 billion in wages every year.

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C.J. Pierre

C.J. Pierre is a Lead Writer at PlayCA. He has been covering news and sports for over a decade for both online and TV broadcasts. He was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN and is an alum of Minnesota State University: Moorhead. He recently dove into tribal casino, sports betting and online gambling news. He also covered the launch of sports betting in Arizona. C.J. has experience as a reporter and videographer and has covered high school, college and professional sports throughout his career, most notably following Arizona Cardinals, Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Vikings and North Dakota State University football.

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