The Ninth Circuit Court of California upheld its earlier decision denying the Santa Ysabel Tribe the tribal right to offer interactive gaming.
The Southern Californian tribe lost the appeal after the court rules that online poker and other online gaming activities cannot be part of the tribe’s casino offerings if these activities are illegal in California.
History of the Desert Rose Bingo
The 750-member remote reservation of Diegueño Mission Indians has been legally entangled with the government for several years after getting involved with online bingo with its Desert Rose iBingo sit and later on, with online poker.
Initially building a casino within its SanDiego County reservation, the casino failed, and the tribe ended up more than $50 million in debt to the county. The tribe then looked for an alternative and went on to online gambling and leased part of its lands for cultivating marijuana.
In 2014, after the launch of its Santa Ysabel’s Desert Rose iBingo, the tribe launched online poker services at PrivateTable.com. The offering started with free online poker games with possible paid tables in the future.
The Santa Ysabel Band of Diegueño Mission Indians claimed that their online interactive bingo and poker offerings were allowed by the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) that gave tribal control and jurisdiction over gaming on tribal lands. In short, the tribe was legally within its sovereign rights.
The tribe also contended that its offerings fell under Class II gaming and that IGRA allowed for Class II games in the tribe’s lands. Also cited was the tribe’s 2005 state compact allowing the Santa Ysabel Band of Diegueño Mission Indians to serve Class II games.
However, last week the federal district appeals court ruled that the tribe’s Desert Rose Bingo violated the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). The federal judge ruled that even with IGRA, the restrictions and regulations sets by UIGEA were still supreme and to be followed.
At the time the Santa Ysabel offered online gaming, the California State Government and the different Native American tribal groups and other stakeholders providing various gaming were still negotiating with the legislature drafting the state laws to legalize online gambling.
The Santa Ysabel jumped the gun started offering online gaming to get a headstart over larger tribes and to avoid the possible $10 million license fee that was being discussed during that time. The tribe launched the 2014 Desert Rose Bingo even if its PrivateTable.com casino panned out. The tribe used a website accessible only on the reservation.
California v. Iipay Nation Lawsuit
But then California State Attorney General Kamala Harris filed for an injunction asking a federal court to stop the tribe’s website from operating. The Federal Government followed suit and joined the state’s lawsuit, California v. Iipay Nation, claiming that the tribe’s operations were in violation of UIGEA, IGRA, and the 2005 state gaming compact. Both also contended that the tribe’s offering of online bingo games, were in fact, Class III gaming.
The case was protracted and went for years until the federal judge ruled against Santa Ysabel in 2016 since the online bingo site players won’t be physically located on tribal lands. However, the judge also ruled that the tribe did not violate the 2005 state compact and that California does not have the authority to regulate online bingo.
The Santa Ysabel tribe appealed, but the enpanelled three-judge Ninth Circuit Appellate Court ruled to uphold the earlier ruling. Stating that though the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act allowed for gambling and gaming within reservation lands. It does not protect bets and wagers placed within California but not on reservation lands. This violated the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act.
In short, because the Desert Rose Bingo accepted bets from California residents, it then violated California law.
What the Future Holds
The ruling, however, left some big questions unanswered, mainly if the tribe’s games are offered in a different state or overseas, will the tribe’s operations still be a violation of California’s laws. With more states providing legalized online gambling, the ruling may be tested further in the future.