The Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel is facing the first legal challenge to its new online bingo platform, which could impact its impending online poker site as well.
The tribal operator went live with DesertRoseBingo.com earlier this month and claims it is its sovereign right to offer Class II gaming over the internet, which is defined by the Indian Regulatory Act of 1988 as poker and bingo, regardless whether or not it is legal in California.
The launch of its poker platform, PrivateTable.com, has been described as “imminent” for many months now, and there is speculation that DesertRoseBingo.com is a tentative step to test the legal waters and address any judicial challenges before the poker site goes live.
The legal challenge came swiftly, however, and straight from the office of the California Attorney General in the form of a 14-page federal lawsuit, which aims to pull the plug on the tribe’s ambitions.
The criminal complaint asks for a federal restraining order suspending the bingo site’s operations until the matter is resolved in the courts. The suit accuses the tribe of being in breach of state and federal law and of violating its gaming compact and claims that its actions are “an imminent threat to the public health, safety, and welfare.”
“This action seeks appropriate injunctive relief to prevent unlawful Internet gambling; Defendant Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel, also known as Santa Ysabel Band of Diegueno Mission Indians (Tribe), has begun to offer a facsimile of bingo over the Internet to bettors, who are not located on the Tribe’s Indian lands,” begins the suit. “In addition to violating state and federal law, the Tribe’s conduct materially breaches the tribal-state class III gaming compact (Compact) between the Tribe and the State.”
The tribe believes that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) permits the offering of Class II gaming, and that it is therefore its tribal right. However, since IGRA was drawn up in 1988 before the advent of internet gambling, there is legal confusion. California believes that the Act only intended to permit Class II gaming on tribal lands, and therefore offering it to players outside those lands is a violation of the law.
The lawsuit makes reference to a clause in the original gaming compact of 2003, which it believes the Iipay Nation has violated.
It states: “Nothing in this Gaming Compact affects the civil or criminal jurisdiction of the State under Public Law 280 or IGRA, to the extent applicable. In addition, criminal jurisdiction to enforce state gambling laws is transferred to the State pursuant to 18 USC [Title 18 of the United States Code, the criminal and penal code of the US federal government] provided that no Gaming Activity conducted by the Tribe pursuant to this gaming compact may be deemed to be a civil or criminal violation of any law of the State.”
The case is scheduled to be heard by a federal judge on December 4 at the US District Court for the Southern District of California.