California Cardrooms Protest as Bill Advances Allowing Tribes to Sue

Over 100 demonstrators gathered in Sacramento, Calif. Tuesday to protest against legislation they say could cost California cardrooms thousands of jobs, iGB reports. Despite protestations, the bill was advanced 15-1 by the California Assembly’s Governmental Organization Committee.

California cardrooms, tribal casinos, SB 549, Tribal Nations Access to Justice Act, Tasha Cerda, James Siva
Gardena Mayor Tasha Cerda says the card clubs in her city are major employers and vital sources of tax revenue, which help provide a better quality of life for residents and the community. (Time Warner Cable/YouTube)

Senate Bill 549, also known as the Tribal Nations Access to Justice Act, would allow California tribal casino operators a window in which to sue the state’s 84 licensed cardrooms. The tribes claim the card clubs are offering games that violate their exclusivity on house-banked games, such as blackjack and Pai Gow poker.

They want the courts to shut down the games, but as sovereign nations tribes typically cannot sue or be sued in a state court. That’s because, generally speaking, state courts lack jurisdiction over the tribes. SB 549 would authorize the tribes to seek limited declaratory and relief action to determine whether the games, known as “California games,” violate their rights.

License to Shill

California games are versions of popular casino table games that take a rake from each hand while allowing players to play in the dealer position — just like in a regular poker cash game.

But the cardrooms also hire third-party companies, which must be state-licensed, to “shill” in the dealer spot because regular players don’t always want to act as the dealer.

The tribes argue that these companies, known as ‘TPPPs, are the de facto “bank.”

Cardroom advocacy group the California Gaming Association (CGA) estimates that the bill could cost the industry around 32,000 jobs. That’s because an unfavorable court ruling stemming from the bill would force many of the clubs to downsize or shutter.

‘Backbone of Community’

Among the protestors Tuesday was Gardena mayor Tasha Cerda, whose city has a long association with card rooms and remains home to two, Hustler and the Lady Luck.

Our two cardrooms have been the backbone of our community as they will provide vital tax services that our city uses to fund vital public services, which allow us to provide a better quality of life for our residents and communities,” Gerda told iGB. “Our cardrooms employ over 1,200 residents and individuals from surrounding communities. That’s over $47 million in wages a year.”

Meanwhile, inside the State Capitol, California Nations Indian Gaming (CNIG) Chairman James Siva told the Governmental Organization Committee that SB 549 was just “a fair and reasonable pathway to allow an impartial court to decide once and for all” on the legality of California games.

“We tried initiation of federal and state lawsuits,” Siva said, as reported by Play USA. “Unfortunately, each of those lawsuits were dismissed solely on procedural grounds without addressing the merits, therefore denying tribal access to justice.”

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