The Idaho Coeur d’Alene casino poker room has been something of a long shot draw since it was opened earlier this year. The tribe has said that poker is permitted at their casino under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, while the state of Idaho has said poker isn’t legal under their own laws. This week, the final card may have been dealt, and the river wasn’t kind to the tribe.
Federal US District Judge B. Lynn Winmill has ruled that the Coeur d’Alene casino must stop offering Texas Hold’em tournaments and other poker games pending the outcome of the state’s lawsuit. Idaho was granted injunctive relief, while the tribe’s motion to dismiss was denied.
“Until such time as this matter is heard and decided on the merits, Defendant Coeur d’Alene Tribe, including its officers, employees and agents, is enjoined from conducting the poker game known as Texas Hold’em at (a) the Coeur d’Alene Casino, or (b) any other gaming facility owned or used by the Tribe for Class III gaming that is on Indian lands within the State of Idaho,” Judge Winmill wrote in his legal decision.
The ruling stated that because poker had some elements of luck, it could not be exempt from the tribal contract between the Coeur d’Alene and the state of Idaho under the IGRA.
“When a poker player is dealt a hand, chance determines how good or bad that hand will be,” Winmill wrote. “There is no skill involved in that part of the game–ever.”
That element of luck was apparently enough to find that poker could not be classified as a game of skill under IGRA. The tribe had been arguing that if poker was seen as a “contest of skill,” they would be allowed to offer it on their sovereign tribal grounds, even if the state of Idaho had banned the game.
Since poker was not a house-backed game, the tribe argued that the game should be considered a form of Class II gambling, which would then be allowed on their reservation (rather than a Class III game, which is not covered in the compact the tribe has with Idaho). They also pointed out that poker, specifically Texas Hold’em, was allowed in some circumstances in the state, such as at charity events.
But the state itself has consistently rebuked these claims since the tribe first announced plans to open their poker room earlier this year, something reiterated by Governor Butch Otter again after the ruling came down.
“The legislature and the people of Idaho have made it clear what kind of gambling they will accept,” Otter said in a statement. “That does not include poker. And no matter how much the tribe insists otherwise, Texas Hold’em is poker.”
This ruling could potentially have repercussions beyond the borders of Idaho. For instance, the Santa Ysabel tribe in California is attempting to launch an online poker site based on their ability to host Class II gaming from their reservation. While the laws of California clearly make poker a Class II game in that state, it’s not clear if that would also hold for online poker. In addition, the ruling still sets a precedent that states may be able to file injunctions against tribes in these cases without seeking a ruling from the National Indian Gaming Commission.