California Courier

California Tribes Take Legal Action Against Card Rooms in Gambling Turf War

Gambling Turf War Resumes as California Tribes Seek Legal Action Against Card Rooms.

When California voters rejected two sports gambling measures last year, they unknowingly influenced three ancillary gambling issues. Proposition 26, backed by American Indian tribes, included three provisions that received little attention. One provision would have permitted select horseracing tracks to accept bets on sporting events. Another provision aimed to expand gambling in tribal casinos by introducing roulette and dice games. The third provision, particularly contentious, could have forced poker parlors in the state to shut down. The third provision was proposed by the tribes to resolve a long-standing dispute with card rooms over the types of games offering. Tribal casinos argued that card rooms encroached on tribal territory by offering blackjack and other similar games, which they believe was in defiance of California’s complex laws differentiating legal from illegal gambling.

If Proposition 26 had passed, it would have given the state attorney general increased authority to enforce gambling laws, including the power to close down establishments deemed violators. In cases where the attorney general failed to act, private parties like tribal casinos could have filed civil actions themselves. Card room operators viewed the proposition’s failure as a reprieve from potential doom.

However, the gambling turf war did not come to an end with the defeat of Proposition 26. The hostilities have been reignited in the California Legislature through Senate Bill 549. In June, its language was altered to closely resemble that of Proposition 26, offering tribes a three-month window next year to pursue legal action against rival card rooms. With both sides gearing up for battle, the tribes possess significant political resources and have established themselves as a major interest group in the Capitol. Conversely, the family owning the prominent Hawaiian Gardens card room in Los Angeles County has committed over $5 million this year alone to lobby against SB 549.

In the upcoming legislative session, the fate of the gambling turf war will be decided. The clash between tribes and card rooms promises to be intense, with substantial financial resources and political backing on both sides. Ultimately, the battle will determine the future landscape of gambling in California and the extent of control wielded by each faction.

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