The Santa Ysabel Tribe was issued a Temporary Restraining Order on Friday and will be forced, for now, to shut down DesertRoseBingo.com. The site became operational on November 3 and became the first site in California to offer what they claimed was legal online bingo.
Both the state of California and the United States Department of Justice disagreed with the tribe and proceeded to sue to shutdown the site. The state argued that online bingo violated the compact with the tribe and that it constituted Class III gambling while the DOJ charged the site with violations of the UIGEA.
Online Bingo Ruled a Computer Facsimile
U.S. District Judge Anthony Battaglia presided over the trial last week and one of the keys points that led to his issuing the TRO was whether online bingo was Class II or Class III gambling under IGRA.
Under IGRA, games such as bingo are typically considered Class II gambling. The tribe argued that all gambling actually took place on Indian land via a computerized proxy and therefore legal. However, IGRA also states that any game that is a computer facsimile of a live game is considered Class III.
In a typical game of bingo, a player will go to the bingo hall or casino and purchase their cards. They will then go to a designated area and wait for number to be called. As numbers are called, players then track these numbers with a blotter or some other type of tracking device. If a bingo is made, the player must then notify someone on duty of the bingo to claim their prize. A player may also assign a proxy to go to the casino on their behalf and play the game. This proxy would do all the same actions as the player, but the original player must claim their winnings.
This thorough explanation of how bingo play works was key in Battaglia’s ruling. With Desert Rose Bingo, players can only select the game and they number of cards they want to play. From there the “proxy” then plays the cards. However, the proxy was actually the computer playing the cards for the bettor. No physical interaction by a person occurred during the actual game play. As such, games at Desert Rose Bingo were ruled a computer facsimile and Class III gambling.
Did the State Act to Stop Santa Ysabel From Spreading Poker First?
Prior to the lawsuit, Santa Ysabel had repeatedly claimed that they were nearly ready to become the first entity to spread online poker in California. One has to wonder if the state’s swift reaction to online bingo was prompted by the likelihood of the tribe launching online poker.
Lawmakers and other tribes have been working for years to reach a compromise regarding online poker and 2015 is viewed by many to be the year that the game is legalized. However, Santa Ysabel believed they did not need state lawmaker approval and that sovereign authority coupled with their understanding of IGRA was enough to launch a site. This was a precedent that California clearly would not want set as they want some control over the industry. If tribes could spread online poker at will, it would put them at a disadvantage.
For now, Santa Ysabel will continue to fight for the rights to spread online bingo and eventually online poker without being under the rule of state law. It is likely a battle that they will not win but will probably take several months to resolve. By then, there is a solid chance that online poker will have made enough progress towards legalization to make their case moot.