California’s Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians and Santa Ynez Band of Cumash Indians have launched legal action against many of the state’s card rooms for operating what the tribes consider to be house-banked card games.

Rincon

Chairman of the Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians Bo Mazzetti (left) is pictured with Vice Chairman Tishmall Turner. Mazzetti says he doesn’t want to put the card rooms out of business but has had enough of them allegedly skirting the rules on table games. (Image: Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians)

California’s 55 tribal operators have exclusivity on Class III casino gaming, per a 2000 ballot initiative, but have become increasingly enraged over the card clubs offering so-called “California games.”

These are usually variations of blackjack or Pai Gow Poker in which players are permitted to play in a dealer position. The card rooms take a rake on each bet as they would in a regular poker game, and so because they are not acting as the house the games are legal.

Gaming the System

But the tribes are aggrieved at what happens when a player does not wish to take their turn as the dealer. In this instance, the card rooms hire employees of licensed third-party companies to “shill” in the dealer spot.

Under California law, the player-dealer position is required to be rotated continuously, but the tribes allege some card clubs are abusing the system by failing to rotate the dealer spot as required by law, which essentially enables them to offer Las Vegas-style high-stakes table games.

Among those named in the tribes’ lawsuit are major card clubs like Larry Flynt’s Hustler Casino, The Commerce Casino, Hawaiian Gardens and The Bicycle Casino. Tribes have also threatened to sue the state for what they see as its failure to police the clubs.

Too Little, Too Late

In September, California’s Bureau of Gambling Control promised it would clamp down on the card clubs, but Chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNGA) Steve Stallings dismissed this as a “delaying tactic.”

On Friday, Chairman of the Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians Bo Mazzetti said the lawsuit was not challenging the right of the clubs to do business, just their non-compliance with California law.

It seeks injunctive relief to bar the defendants from offering banked and percentage card games, and “legal relief for the financial losses of business and governmental revenue, tribal employment opportunities and goodwill,” according to The Times of San Diego.

“If the California Department of Justice and the Gambling Control Commission would have [sic] enforced the current laws that exist, we would not have taken this action. We have been trying to work with the state for over 13 years on this issue,” Mazzetti said. “Unfortunately, this lack of enforcement gives us no other option but to pursue legal remedies.”