Tribe believes court ruling threatens Indian gaming laws

16 December 2014

Californian tribe Santa Ysabel has described a federal court ruling that has banned its attempts to introduce online bingo in the US state as “very dangerous and significant”.

The operator went live with DesertRoseBingo.com in early November claiming its sovereign right to offer Class II gaming, which is defined by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act 1988 (IGRA) as poker and bingo, over the internet regardless whether or not it is legal in California.

However, by November 21 the tribe had been hit by a legal challenge from California’s Office of the Attorney General, which filed a 14-page federal lawsuit seeking “appropriate injunctive relief to prevent unlawful internet gambling”.

On Friday, US federal district judge Anthony Battaglia issued a temporary restraining order banning the tribe from continuing to offer real money online bingo in California.

Cruz Bustamante, spokesman for Santa Ysabel Interactive, the Tribe's economic development enterprise, said: “We are deeply disappointed by the federal court's decision to grant the State’s temporary restraining order.

“This decision poses a significant threat to tribal jurisdiction over Class II gaming under the IGRA.

“It declares one-touch bingo and proxy play of games to be illegal and turns a blind eye to federal laws and precedent permitting technological advancements to aid in the play of Class II bingo. These are very dangerous and significant pronouncements for Indian Country.”

The tribe believes that IGRA permits the offering of Class II gaming, however legal confusion comes due to the Act being drawn up in 1988 - before the advent of internet gambling. California believes that the Act only intended to permit Class II gaming on tribal lands, and therefore offering it to players outside those lands is a violation of the law.

Earlier this year, Santa Ysabel stated that it would launch a poker site, PrivateTable.com, but ultimately decided to begin its operations with the bingo platform.

Bustamante added: "If the State ultimately prevails on these important tribal sovereignty issues, the ultimate losers will be small, economically disenfranchised tribes in California and throughout the country.

“We remain hopeful that as the case progresses the court will make every effort to understand the game and its technology, ultimately realising that the games being offered are by definition legal Class II games.”

Related article: Harris files for injunction against Californian tribe following website launch