The Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel have stirred up an awful lot of dust since announcing their intention to open a legal, regulated online poker site in California. Although the website, PrivateTable.com, has yet to transition to real money gaming, a cash-play online bingo site went live in November. Last week, the state of California successfully petitioned for a temporary restraining order (TRO) against DesertRoseBingo.com, and it could spell doom for the tribe’s intention to offer real money online poker.
The Santa Ysabel based the legality of their right to offer California online poker and bingo games on the verbiage of the 1988 IGRA (Indian Gaming Regulatory Act). According to that legislation, tribes throughout the US are able to provide Class II gaming, which technically includes poker and bingo, so long as it takes place on their own land (or in this case, so long as the servers are based therein). But according to US District Judge Anthony J. Battaglia of the Southern District of California, the fine print may be more restrictive than that.
Desert Rose Bingo launched in beta testing mode on November 3rd, 2014. Residents of California have been able to deposit and play under proxy ever since. Almost immediately, the state of California took to the courts to request a TRO against the real money online gambling site, and Judge Battaglia ruled in favor of that request on Friday.
Judge Battaglia spent a great deal of time closely examining the text of the IGRA before coming to his decision. In the end, he ruled that, while poker and bingo in their traditional, land-based forms, are defined as Class II gaming, when transmuted to an online environment, they fall under the definition of Class III gaming.
He based his ruling on IGRA Sec. 2703-(7)(B)ii, which states, “class II gaming does not include… (ii) electronic or elctromechanical facsimiles of any game of chance or slot machines of any kind”.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, a facsimile is defined as “an exact copy” of something. And since online bingo games are realistically an exact copy of a live bingo game, Judge Battaglia ruled that they inherently fall under the category of Class III gaming, not Class II.
Battaglia’s ruling included a list of excerpts from the IGRA regarding both classes of gaming alluding to that evidence. He concluded that, “the Court is convinced that the internet gaming provided here is Class III. This was bolstered by the presentation of the game at the hearing, at which it became apparent that, as the State represented, the player’s participation is limited to electing the amount to bet and the number of cards to play.”
This morning, a response from the tribe was published. “We are deeply disappointed by the federal court’s decision to grant the State’s TRO,” said a spokesman for Santa Ysabel Interactive, Cruz Bustamante. He said the ruling, “turns a blind eye to federal laws and precedent permitting technological advancements…”
The judge intends to hold a formal hearing within the next two weeks, at which time an injunction against the online bingo site is expected. If the California tribe’s bingo endeavor is, in fact, declared illegal, it only stands to reason that a real money online poker room would receive the same unlawful classification. However, the tribe asserted that, no matter the outcome, they will continue to defend and fight for their right to offer online poker and bingo games under the Class II gaming ordinance.