Judge Rules Against the California Tribe in Online Gambling Case

The Tribal online poker and gambling in the State of California looked like it was dead in the water a few years ago, however, now it is official. Judge Anthony J. Battaglia who has ruled for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California that the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel, Santa Ysabel Interactive, the Santa Ysabel Gaming Commission and others had violated the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) and had made what was considered a temporary injunction against them as permanent. They are not allowed to offer internet gambling to any people who are not located on the Tribe’s land.

This began approximately two years ago when the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel, in California, launched the Desert Rose Bingo, this is a real money internet bingo site that is open to Californians who are 18-years and older. The Tribe stated that they was given permission to do this by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA):

By offering online gaming through the Santa Ysabel Interactive, the Tribe state that they are exerting their sovereign right which falls under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA)for them to regulate and conduct a Class II gaming from the tribe’s reservation. A Class II gaming, is defined by IGRA, as poker and bingo, however. it does not include any slot-based games or any house-banked games, for instance, blackjack. All House-banked games and the slot machines are defined as Class III games, and they can only be offered by a tribal casino in agreement with the state, through the Tribal-State Gaming Compact. The Santa Ysabel has had a compact with the state since 2005, but they have no plans of offering Class III gaming through their interactive website.

Though the Class II games include poker, the Tribe also used an online poker site, PrivateTable.com, but this site was only for play money.

There was still a sticky detail that patrons of the Desert Rose Bingo were not physically located on the tribal lands. The Tribe believed they could get around this:

That registered users could engage a ‘proxy’ for playing Class II bingo games which they considered to be under the sovereign jurisdiction of the federally recognized, Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel.

Once the completion of a very comprehensive registration and approval process, the real time live bingo game action is allowed to be played by a “proxy” of a device user on a web-browser who has access to the tribe’s Class II bingo gaming system. At no time was live bingo action performed by the user. This ensured that all the game play will take place on Tribal lands, that is under the jurisdiction of the Tribal government and that it is in compliance with the applicable laws and regulations.

Lawsuits were immediately filed by both the federal and state authorities; thereafter, temporary injunctions were filed against the Tribe. Both of the sites were shut down within a few days. In essence, the ruling by Judge Battaglia was more or less a formality.

Judge Battaglia said that when IGRA and UIGEA are read together, it was quite evident that the phrase “on Indian lands” it was with intention to limit the gaming for those patrons who participated in gaming activity while they were in Indian country. If the Court were to give IGRA a broad construction, Tribal Defendants urge, then under no circumstances could the United States be able to enforce UIGEA especially where some portion of the activity had originated from servers that are located on Indian lands.