The Santa Ysabel tribe is continuing their fight to offer real-money online gambling in California. On December 31, the tribe filed a motion in U.S. District Court seeking to have the state’s case against them dismissed. If you remember, the tribe launched real money online bingo in November and the state quickly filed for a temporary restraining order against the tribe.
In December, a federal judge ruled that Desert Rose Bingo was actually Class III gambling and not Class II as argued. As such, the gaming violated state and tribal gaming law and a TRO was granted against the site. The tribe ended their bingo operations but is now fighting to reinstate them.
Santa Ysabel Continues to Argue Tribal Sovereignty
Not surprisingly, the tribe continues to argue tribal sovereignty in this matter, claiming that the state government has not went through proper procedures to prove that “subject matter jurisdiction” exists.
The tribe argues that all gaming conducted at Desert Rose Bingo is being done “by proxy” and that bets and wagers are being conducted on tribal lands. They argue that their VPN-aided gaming is just a means to an end in providing gaming to its clients.
The state government argued otherwise and Judge Anthony J. Battaglia agreed with their argument. They argued that the gaming was a “computer facsimile” of actual bingo play. Under IGRA, gaming that is a computer facsimile is actually Class III gaming and not Class II that the tribes argued.
Ruling Could Impact Online Poker Nationwide
The issue being played out in court not only impacts online bingo, but also could ultimately impact online poker for tribes across the country. The tribe at some point is planning to offer online poker and is using the same argument for online poker as for online bingo. They argue that online poker bets would be proxy bets thanks to their VPN-assisted play and thus would constitute Class II gaming.
The question at hand is whether the courts will change their minds and side with the tribe on this matter. Looking at the bingo product, it is clear that most of the actual gaming and tracking of the game is done by computer. Players only get to choose the game and number of cards they pick. The argument by the court, and one that will likely be hard for the tribe to get past, is that their online bingo product does not allow for the same type of play that would occur in a live version of the game or a better programmed online version.
Looking deeper at the poker side of things, the tribe is arguing that bets and wagers are occurring on Indian lands. How exactly will this be accomplished via poker? By the nature of the game, players must interact with the game. Otherwise, it is a computer facsimile in the way that Desert Rose Bingo is currently operated. One option would be to setup an online poker program that has a user VPN into a terminal in the same way a remote computer technician would access your computer via a remote control program. However, it would be hard to imagine the game being quick enough or allowing things such as multi-tabling.
If Santa Ysabel were able to somehow win the rights to offer online bingo and poker, other tribes could well piggyback this decision and try to do the same both in California and in other states across the nation. Knowing this, it is hard to see the courts issuing such a broad-reaching decision. In the end, expect Santa Ysabel to lose out.