A federal appeals court has reversed a lower court decision that banned electronic poker tables at Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison. The state had contended that electronic poker was Class III gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 (IGRA) but Ho-Chunk contended it was Class II Gaming.
The state successfully shut down Ho-Chunk’s e-Poker room in 2014 when U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb sided with the state and forced the poker room shutdown. The tribe fought the decision and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit based in Chicago recently overturned that ruling.
E-Poker is Not Illegal So Tribe Must Be Permitted to Offer
Ultimately, the case came down to whether E-Poker was a non-banked card game or a house banked card game. A non-banked game would classify as Class II gambling under IGRA and would be permitted at Ho-Chunk Madison. The facility is considered a bingo hall and can only offer bingo style games or non-banked card games such as poker.
Chief Judge Diane Wood determined that E-Poker was a non-banked card game and that the state could block Ho-Chunk from offering the game because they do not currently criminalize E-Poker.
Wood wrote in her decision that, “IGRA creates a regulatory scheme that respects tribal sovereignty while carving out a regulatory role for the states on only the most lucrative forms of casino gambling and hence the forms of gambling most susceptible to organized crime.
States may choose to bypass this regulatory scheme if they are willing to ban gaming across the board. But the states lack statutory authority to deny an Indian tribe the ability to offer gaming that is roughly equivalent to what the state allows for its residents.”
It is unknown at this time whether Ho-Chunk will reopen their room, but at least they have the right to do so.
Will This Have Implications for California Tribes
This ruling could prove beneficial for certain California tribes looking to hose online poker, specifically the Santa Ysabel. They are currently in a battle with California over whether online bingo is permitted under IGRA. The state has forced the tribe to shutdown their online bingo operations due to the games falling under Class III gambling.
While that battle is ongoing, the Santa Ysabel has expressed an interest in operating online poker in the state. They contend like that Ho-Chunk that online poker is Class II gambling under IGRA instead of Class III. The ruling by the appellate court could open the door for a similar ruling in California.
Should online poker be declared Class II gambling in California, then the state would be unable to prevent them from offering iPoker. Other tribes could follow suit and offer online poker without a bill being passed in the state legislature.
The Ho-Chunk ruling could prove to be a major development for tribal online poker in California. Now we have to wait and see how the Santa Ysabel decides to proceed.