Two California Tribes Sue Card Rooms and Prop Players

Two California Tribes Sue Card Rooms and Prop Players

They said they would do it, and they did it. And this may only be the beginning.

The Rincon Band of Luiseno Mission Indians and Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Mission Indians joined together to file a lawsuit in the County of San Diego in the Superior Court of California. The November 16 civil action followed reports of frustration from the tribes, who brought their concerns about card room violations to every gaming commission in the state. A lack of response for years finally led two of the California tribes to take legal action as promised.

Other tribes have yet to weigh in, though the California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA) supports the Rincon lawsuit and would likely endorse other California tribes that make the same choice or sign on to the current case.

The scope of the case remains unclear, but if the plaintiffs win the case on any level, it could have a significant impact on the card room scene in California. And though live poker is not targeted in the lawsuit, it will be affected negatively if the tribes succeed in court.

Rincon V. Flynt

The Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians is the primary plaintiff in the case filed in San Diego, but the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians did sign on as an additional plaintiff.

The primary defendant is listed as Casino LLC, but the list of defendants includes Larry Flynt, Hustler Casino, Hustler Casino, Commerce Casino, the Bicycle Casino, Hawaiian Gardens Casino, Hollywood Park Casino, Oceans 11 Casino, Celebrity Casinos, Players Poker Club, Stones South Bay, Sahara Dunes Casino, Green and Red Companies 1 through 25 and John Does 1 through 25. The John Does are proposition players that are currently remaining unnamed, as are the third-party companies that provide those prop players.

Case number 37-2018-00058170-CU-NP-CTL doesn’t have much information available to the public as of yet, but it is known that the plaintiffs allege that the defendants are in violation of the California Constitution, the state’s penal code, and the Gambling Control Act.

Ultimately, the tribes are seeking injunctive relief to force the card rooms to stop offering games illegally, but there is also legal relief on the table to compensate for the loss of business, revenue, employment opportunities, and general goodwill among the gaming entities.

Interestingly, only two of the tribes of the dozens that operate more than 65 casino-style establishments in the state are currently involved in the lawsuit, and only a small percentage of the 150-plus card rooms in California are named as defendants.

Time’s Up

According to both plaintiffs, house-banked games that violate California law like blackjack, baccarat, and pai gow poker have been a thorn in the sides of the tribes for more than 13 years.

Rincon Chairman Bo Mazzetti noted that the tribes are not challenging the right of the card rooms to operate in general, but they must do so in full compliance. “If the California Department of Justice and the Gambling Control Commission would have enforced the current laws that exist, we would not have taken this action,” he said. “We have been trying to work with the state for over 13 years on this issue. Unfortunately, this lack of enforcement gives us no other option but to pursue legal remedies.”

Santa Ynez Chairman Kenneth Kahn concurred. “It is unlawful for cardrooms to operate house-banked and percentage card games,” he echoed. “It’s a problem we’ve been addressing for years through the administrative process, all to no avail. We are now forced to challenge this through the courts.”

As both tribes are members of CNIGA, the organization weighed in with its message of support: “They felt they had no choice as the state of California has consistently declined to take proper action against the flagrantly illegal activity engaged in by several card rooms in the state. CNIGA and our member tribes have attempted to engage the state on their failure to enforce California law and have discussed the topic time and again with successive attorneys general and officials within the California Department of Justice to no avail.”

Bottom Line

Numerous tribes have been standing in opposition to banked and percentage-based table games in California card rooms for years, but they’ve always been told that the appropriate agencies would look into it.

The core complaint has been the TPPPs, or third-party proposition players, who fill open spots in card rooms, especially in high-stakes games, to keep them going. Not only does this allow card rooms to skirt the house-banked prohibition, rotation rules are often not enforced. This means that the TPPPs serve as the bank for round after round of play instead of the “bank” rotating to all players, as per the law.

Tribal leaders have complained numerous times that the state gambling laws are being violated, as well as the tenets of their own tribal gaming compacts. The California Gambling Control Commission and its Bureau of Gambling Control have often tried to placate the tribes by saying they would investigate and take action, but the years of inaction have led to the current case filed in court.

About Jennifer Newell

Jennifer began writing about poker while working at the World Poker Tour in the mid-2000s. Since then, her freelance writing career has taken her from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and back to her hometown of St. Louis, where she now lives with her two dogs. She continues to follow the poker world as she also launches a new subscription box company and finishes her first novel. Jennifer has written for numerous publications including PokerStars.com and has been followed the US market closely for the last 7 years. Follow Jen on Twitter

Disclaimer: The information on this site is my interpretation of the laws as made available online. It is in no way meant to serve as legal advice or instruction. We recommend that you seek legal advice from a licensed attorney for further or official guidance.

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