A federal district court judge has ordered the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel (Tribe) to immediately cease offering Internet bingo to California residents via its desertrosebingo.com website.
The temporary restraining order (TRO) was granted after California Attorney General Kamala Harris (State) successfully argued that the Tribe’s online offering violated a 2003 agreement with the State (Compact), establishing classifications and parameters for different types of Tribal gaming.
The case was widely viewed as a deliberate attempt by the Tribe to test the boundaries of the law with an eye toward launching a real-money online poker site prior to State legalization.
Classification of Online Bingo at Issue
The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) sets out three “classes” of gaming (I – III), with increasingly strict rules.
Land-based bingo falls under “Class II.”
The decision hinged on the intersection of these “Classes” with a distinction IGRA makes between a “technologic aid” (which assists a player in playing the game), and an “electronic facsimile” (which is a game played in an electronic format).
Gaming that uses “technologic aids” may be considered “Class II,” while gaming that is an “electronic facsimile” is by definition “Class III.”
Under the compact, the Tribe is forbidden from hosting any “Class III” gambling game beyond the borders of its Indian lands, unless it is already legal within California itself. The Tribe therefore sought to convince the Court that the use of the Internet to provide its online bingo game is a mere “technologic aid” that assists players to play bingo.
However, the Court disagreed.
In finding the Tribe’s online bingo to be an “electronic facsimile,” the Court rejected the argument that because “an off-site user places a bet and watches the computer ‘play’ the game,” the game should be considered a “technologic aid” and therefore “Class II.”
Tribal spokesman Cruz Bustamante released the following statement:
“We are deeply disappointed by the federal court’s decision to grant the State’s TRO…This decision poses a significant threat to tribal jurisdiction over Class II gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
It declares one-touch bingo and proxy play of games to be illegal and turns a blind eye to federal laws and precedent permitting technological advancements to aid in the play of Class II bingo. These are very dangerous and significant pronouncements for Indian Country…
If the State ultimately prevails on these important tribal sovereignty issues, the ultimate losers will be small, economically disenfranchised tribes in California and throughout the country…we remain hopeful that as the case progresses the court will make every effort to understand the game and its technology, ultimately realizing that the games being offered are by definition legal Class II games.”