Blackjack Busted Under Proposed California Card Room Regulations

Written By Dan Holmes on October 2, 2023 - Last Updated on October 3, 2023
Graphic of a cross-through circle over a blackjack table for story on ban in California

California gaming regulators are drafting new regulations that would ban blackjack from California card rooms.

The draft language written by California Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office says “any game of blackjack shall not be approved for play” in California’s more than 70 legal card rooms, Matthew Kredell reported for PlayUSA.

Debate has swirled for years as to the legality of card rooms in California. The businesses are popular with card players, they employ several hundred people and they generate income, especially in underserved communities.

Tribal nations, however, are often opposed to them, as they believe tribes own exclusive gaming rights in California.

End of blackjack in card rooms could spur litigation

California card rooms can differ significantly in size and appearance. Some can be small establishments with just a few tables, while others can take on a casino-like atmosphere. Some offer just poker, while others allow several card games, such as blackjack.

A change to the regulations that would lead to the elimination of blackjack-style games in card rooms could significantly reduce income for businesses. Opposition is sure to be swift and loud.

Specifically, the California Bureau of Gambling Control (BGC) is proposing that:

  • No card game can have a “bust” feature.
  • The game must not have a target winning value of 21.
  • No player receiving a “natural blackjack” (an ace and card valued at “10”) be declared winner.
  • Amend rules so that when there’s a tie between the player-dealer and player, the player is declared the winner.

The California Bureau of Gambling Control will take public comment on the proposed new regulatory language until Oct. 26.

Mandated rotation of player-dealer also proposed

The BGC is also issuing language for approval that would require card rooms to operate with so-called player-dealer rotation. This means each table would need to rotate “the house” among players at least twice every 40 minutes. Current regulations state that the deal must only be rotated “every two hands.”

Many cardrooms, according to the BGC, are not enforcing the rotation of dealer hands. The new language regarding player-dealer rotation would also apply to baccarat.

Most tribal gaming operators opposed to card rooms

The proposed amended regulatory language by the BGC might result in a legal battle between the operators of card rooms, who see themselves as offering much-needed revenue and entertainment for communities that desperately need it, and tribal gaming operators.

Indian tribes, many of which own and operate casinos, have long had an issue with commercial operators who have exclusive rights to operate card rooms where casino-style games can be offered in limited circumstances. The card rooms must not exceed state rules on the number of players and tables it can have. Those card rooms are the only place, other than licensed casinos, where gaming can occur in California.

Last year, California tribes offered a bill that would have allowed them to sue to close or alter the operation of card rooms. That bill did not pass. And so far, tribal nations have been stymied in their efforts to use the courts to shut down what they see as unfair competition.

In Bonta, the tribes seem to have an ally, but card room operators, often seen as an underdog in the multi-billion-dollar gaming industry in California, may have a compelling case to sue to stop such regulations.

The preservation of blackjack at the card room table may be the mechanism that serves to ignite a legal battle that once and for all defines and subsequently protects card rooms in California.

Photo by Shutterstock / Illustration by PlayCA
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Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes is a contributor for PlayCA with plenty of experience under his belt. Dan has written three books about sports and previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball. He also has extensive experience covering the launch of sports betting in other states, including Ohio, Massachusetts and Maryland. Currently, Dan is residing in Michigan with his family.

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