California cardrooms protest bill allowing Indian casinos to file lawsuits against them

In a gathering of over 100 Los Angeles-area cardroom employees and supporters on December 6 in Fullerton, concerns were voiced regarding a proposed bill they fear could lead to job and revenue losses for their industry.

The demonstration took place outside the office of Democratic state Sen. Josh Newman, who sponsors Senate Bill 549, also known as the Tribal Declaratory Relief Act of 2023. The bill has sparked renewed tensions in the decades-long conflict between tribal casinos and cardroom operators, Los Angeles Daily News reported.

Federally recognized tribes possess the liberty to provide slot machines, lottery games, and “banked” card games, including classic blackjack, where the casino functions as the bank managing wagers. In contrast, cardrooms are restricted to offering “player-dealer” games like poker, pai gow, baccarat, and Texas Hold ‘Em.

Opponents of SB 549 argue that tribal casinos are seeking to eliminate competition from cardrooms. The bill aims to grant Indian casinos the authority to file lawsuits against cardroom operators they claim are offering “banking card games” in violation of state law and tribal gaming exclusivity. Currently, tribal casinos lack the legal standing to take civil actions against cardrooms due to their status as sovereign nations, as per the report.

Keith Sharp, president of the California Cardroom Alliance, claims SB 549 is “a thinly veiled attempt to close down cardrooms by the same few wealthy tribes who have failed in their repeated attempts to shut us down for years.” He emphasizes that cardrooms have operated lawfully for decades, adhering to federal, state, and local regulations imposed by the California Gambling Control Commission and the Attorney General’s Department of Justice.

Opponents fear that SB 549 could subject cardrooms to unnecessary and costly lawsuits from tribal casinos, potentially resulting in significant job losses and business closures.

Shavon Moore-Cage, executive assistant to the city manager of Hawaiian Gardens, highlighted the financial impact her city would face if The Gardens Casino were forced to close due to tribal lawsuits.

The tax revenue we get from our cardroom represents 68% of our city’s general fund,” she was quoted as saying in the report. “For other cities, that might be 18% to 40%, but we are a worst-case scenario. This money funds public safety, after-school programs, senior services, and fire services.”

Currently under review by the Assembly Rules Committee, SB 549, if approved, is anticipated to take effect early next year.

“The bill does not answer the question, nor does it take sides,” Sen. Josh Newman said in an interview Wednesday, as per the report. “It simply allows the courts to take this up and offer a ruling. I’m carrying the bill, but I have no cardrooms in my district nor tribal lands, so I’m pretty neutral on this. But I sympathize with the argument that this is something the courts should be allowed to decide.”

Protestors at the rally displayed signs conveying messages such as “549 is a bad bet” and “Say no to 549,” emphasizing their concerns about the potential consequences of the proposed legislation.