Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel Files Motion to Dismiss California AG Lawsuit, Claiming Sovereignty

January 8th, 2015 | by Brian Corlisse
Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel

The California AG’s lawsuit against the Iipay’s online gaming ambitions is a “thinly veiled attempt to weaken tribal governments as the State prepares to negotiate compacts with many of the California tribes,” says the tribe. (Image: en.numista.com)

The Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit launched by the State of California via the Attorney General’s office, that seeks to pull a plug on its online gambling aspirations.

The tribe, which ran a land-based casino until it was forced to closed in 2007, leaving it millions of dollars in debt, has vowed to go it alone and offer online poker and bingo to Californians, whether the state chooses to legalize or not.

The Iipay Nation says it’s its sovereign right to do so, and that it is justified under the Indian Gaming and Regulations Act 1988 (IGRA).

The Act permits Native American operators to offer Class II gaming, i.e. poker and bingo, on tribal land, which is what the Iipay Nation believe it is doing. However, the bill was drawn up a year before the invention of the Internet, and thus, argues the California AG’s Office, no provision has been made for remote gaming, where most players will be situated outside tribal land.

Sovereign Immunity

Nevertheless, Iipay have long vowed to go live with a real-money online poker room, PrivateTable.com, and several months ago tested the legal waters when its online bingo offering, DesertRoseBingo.com, was launched.

California acted swiftly, filing legal action that accused the Iipay of being in breach of its compact with the state, as well as federal law, and immediately sought a temporary restraining order from a federal judge to ban the operation of DesertRoseBingo.com until the entire matter can be settled in court.

The 19-page motion to dismiss the Attorney General’s case again invokes the tribe’s sovereign rights which it believes are under attack by the state.

“This Motion is made upon the grounds that the tribal sovereign immunity of Defendants bars the State’s claims and, in any event, the State has failed to comply with the procedural requirements of [two sections] of the Tribal-State Compact upon which the State purportedly relies for its claims,” it said. “The State is obliged to follow these mandatory procedures before the State can commence a declaratory action in federal court. Accordingly, the State failed to meet its burden of proving that subject-matter jurisdiction exists.”

California Regulation

California is, of course, preparing to legalize, and tax, online poker itself, which involves forming necessary compacts with its tribal operators, and it’s a process that could be completely derailed in the unlikely event that the tribe is able to defend itself in a federal court.

This is a fact that has not escaped the Iipay, who are nothing if not determined.

“It is a thinly veiled attempt to weaken tribal governments as the State prepares to negotiate compacts with many of the California Tribes,” the tribe said recently. “This action by the State should be of great concern to all Tribes in California and elsewhere because it reflects a tactic that if successful would set a dangerous legal precedent that could be used in other jurisdictions to undermine and attack tribal sovereignty.

“The State’s misguided attack completely ignores existing federal regulations and guidelines encompassed in the Cabazon Decision of the United States Supreme Court, which remains the law of the land.”

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