The Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel have been trying desperately the last few years to operate online poker and gambling sites from their Indian lands in California, claiming the right to do so under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), but those efforts were again thwarted by a federal court of appeals.
The latest decision on August 2 came from a panel of three judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit who affirmed a December 2016 ruling from the district court that prohibits Santa Ysabel from operating an online bingo game via its Desert Rose Casino website. The appellate court judges decreed that such online gaming operations violate the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA).
The ruling (PDF) favored the Plaintiffs-Appellees, the State of California and the United States of America, who jointly filed suit after the tribe located in San Diego County began accepting wagers at their Desert Rose Casino website in late 2014. Santa Ysabel argued that it was merely
exerting its sovereign right as a federally recognized Indian tribe – a right that allows offering games categorized as Class II, which bingo and poker are, on its property.
Legal Loophole Closed
The launch of Desert Rose Casino bingo games opened up a brand new can of worms that had never before been tried or tested, as the Iipay Nation were accepting bets from Californians located anywhere throughout the state, the tribe claiming that the server being used was statically placed on Indian lands and that players were participating and wagering “by proxy.”
The appellate judges weren’t buying that argument one bit, citing the UIGEA as the reason. The judges concluded that even if all the customers wagering on Desert Rose Casino bingo games happened to be on Indian land while placing their online bets, those bets are illegal because the UIGEA prohibits accepting financial transactions tied to wagers via the internet.
No Reservations at Private Table
Desert Rose Casino wasn’t Santa Ysabel’s first attempt at operating online gaming from their property. The tribe gained a lot of attention several months earlier than its online bingo launch by announcing that real money online poker would soon be available to Californians at a site called PrivateTable.com.
The online poker site opened its virtual doors with free play poker action, with a promise to add real money poker to its offerings shortly. That never happened, with Santa Ysabel shifting gears and launching real money bingo at Desert Rose instead.
Online poker regulation was a hot topic in California in 2014 as lawmakers, tribes, card rooms, and horse racing industry representatives were attempting to find common ground and pass legislation. The Iipay Nation attempted to beat the others to the punch by launching PrivateTable.com first, before deciding to transition to the bingo site.
Whether the California tribe will appeal the recent decision to a higher court remains to be seen. In the meantime, there has been absolutely no movement toward online poker legislation in California this year.