Proposed CA law would allow tribes to sue California cardrooms

Morongo Casino exterior
Image: Shutterstock / Byron W. Moore

A piece of legislation in Sacramento could finally offer some clarity on the issue that has divided California cardrooms and tribal casinos for years.

Called The Tribal Declaratory Relief Act of 2023, SB549 would allow California tribes to seek clarity on the player-banked table games offered by cardrooms and whether or not they violate the state’s tribal gaming compacts.

The bill would allow for “limited declaratory and injunctive relief” and would not allow tribes to name the state in the legal action. It would, however, allow for tribes to pursue legal action against both the cardrooms and the third-party groups that provide some of the proposition players who serve as the banker in these games.

Should the court so choose, it can, “make a binding declaration in either affirmative or negative form and effect, which shall have the force of a final judgment, and may issue injunctive relief enjoining further operation of the controlled game or grant any other relief the court deems appropriate.” However, the tribes cannot seek monetary damages, penalties, or remittance of attorney’s fees.

The Senate unanimously passed the measure in May and now the bill is making its way through the Assembly. The Senate Judiciary Committee last week and it now sits with the Rules Committee. The Senate will conclude its 2023 session on Sept. 14, giving the bill two months to advance through the necessary committees and onto the Assembly floor.

If passed, the bill could help to clear up an issue that bitterly divides tribes and cardrooms and was part of the sports betting battle that ran rampant through the state last year. While the focus on Proposition 26 in the media was the legalization of sports betting at tribal casinos, the measure also included a section explicitly granting the right to roulette and dice games to tribal casinos.

While many lawmakers voiced outright opposition to the online sports betting proposition, Prop 27, the approach to Prop 26 was more agnostic with many voicing no stance on the measure.

The tribes have previously tried to take the issue to court with no success. In 2021, the California Circuit Court of Appeal said the tribes lacked standing to bring the suit and dismissed the case.