The Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel is facing a federal lawsuit from the State of California over its online gaming activities. The state wants the plug pulled on the go-it-alone tribal operator which earlier this month launched its online bingo service, Desertrosebingo.com. The tribe has also announced its intention to offer online poker to Californians, regardless of whether the state chooses to legalize and regulate it or not, and has consistently said the launch of its online poker site, PrivateTable.com, is “imminent.”
While the tribal operator believes it “is exerting its sovereign right under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGA) to regulate and conduct Class II gaming from the tribe’s reservation,” the 14-page lawsuit issued by the California Attorney General this week asserts that the tribe’s actions are “an imminent threat to the public health, safety, and welfare.”
The state is seeking “orders temporarily restraining, and permanently enjoining, the Tribe’s offering and conducting Internet gambling in breach of the Compact and in violation of state and federal law.”
Breach of State Gaming Compact
“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,” it states. “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 it has found a loophole in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) that permits the offering of “Class II gaming,” defined in the act as poker and bingo. The tribe has underlined that it is interested only in Class II online gaming. “House-banked games and slot machines are defined as Class III games, and can only be offered in a tribal casino upon agreement with the state through a Tribal-State Gaming Compact,” it says on its website. “Santa Ysabel has had such a compact with the state since 2005, but has no plans to offer Class III gaming through its interactive website.”
However, it’s an incredibly gray area. IGRA was drawn up in 1988 and therefore makes no provision for internet gambling. Furthermore, the state believes that the offering of any form of gaming to Californians who are not based on tribal land is a breach of both state and federal law, pure and simple.
Tribe Snubs Offer of Talks
California wrote to the tribe asking to hold a meeting to discuss its online gambling ambitions but was rebuffed. In its response to the letter the tribe reiterated its plans to offer Class II online gaming which it believed was its right in the absence of a “specific state prohibition on this type of gambling activity.”
“The Tribe advised that it had no intention of discussing with the State any federal statutes, including IGRA and the UIGEA,” stated court documents.
The Iipay nation negotiated its gaming compact with California in 2003 and opened a land-based casino, The Santa Ysabel Casino, in 2007. However, the casino closed its doors in 2007, leaving the tribe millions in debt.
The case is scheduled to be heard on December 4 at the US District Court for the Southern District of California.