Tribal online poker and gambling in California looked dead in the water a couple years ago, but now it is official. Judge Anthony J. Battaglia of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California ruled that the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel, the Santa Ysabel Gaming Commission, Santa Ysabel Interactive, and others violated the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006 and made what was a temporary injunction against them permanent. As such, they are not permitted to offer internet gambling to people who are not located on the Tribe’s land.
The minor saga began about two years ago when California’s Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel launched Desert Rose Bingo, a real money internet bingo site open to Californians who are at least 18-years old. The Tribe said that it was permitted to do this by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA):
In offering online gaming through Santa Ysabel Interactive, the Tribe is exerting its sovereign right under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) to regulate and conduct Class II gaming from the tribe’s reservation. Class II gaming, as defined by IGRA, includes poker and bingo, but does not include slot-based games or house-banked games, such as blackjack. House-banked games and slot machines are defined as Class III games, and can only be offered in a tribal casino upon agreement with the state through a Tribal-State Gaming Compact. Santa Ysabel has had such a compact with the state since 2005, but has no plans to offer Class III gaming through its interactive website.
Though Class II games included poker and the Tribe also had an online poker site, PrivateTable.com, it was only for play money.
Of course, there was still the sticky detail of patrons of Desert Rose Bingo not being physically located on tribal lands. The Tribe believed it could get around this by allowing:
….registered users to engage a ‘proxy’ to play Class II bingo games under the sovereign jurisdiction of federally recognized Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel. After the completion of a comprehensive registration and approval process, real time live bingo game action is played by a “proxy” of the web-browser enabled device user who has accessed the tribe’s Class II bingo gaming system. At no time is live bingo game action performed by the user. This ensures that all game play takes place on Tribal lands, under the jurisdiction of the Tribal government and is in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.
That’s one way to spin it.
Lawsuits were almost immediately filed by both federal and state authorities; temporary injunctions were also filed against the Tribe. Both sites were shut down after just a few days. In essence, Judge Battaglia’s ruling was more or less a formality. He wrote:
When IGRA and UIGEA are read together, it is evident that the phrase “on Indian lands” was intended to limit gaming to those patrons who participate in the gaming activity while in Indian country. Were the Court to give IGRA the broad construction Tribal Defendants urge, under no circumstances would the United States be able to enforce UIGEA where some portion of the activity originates from servers located on Indian lands.