The Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel has responded defiantly to a legal challenge from the State of California which is seeking to pull the plug on its online gaming operations. The tribal operator launched its online bingo platform, DesertRoseBingo.com, earlier this month and has vowed that it will follow it up with an online poker site, PrivateTable.com, whether California chooses to legalize the game or not. The tribe says it is exercising its tribal sovereign rights to offer Class II gaming over the internet, which is defined as poker and bingo.
However, the California Attorney General’s Office disagrees and last week launched a federal lawsuit accusing the tribe of breaking state and federal laws and of violating its compact with the state. This week the Iipay Nation hit back, accusing the state of “severely undermining the inherent sovereign rights” of the tribe and of “attacking the rights of all tribes.”
“The complaint filed last week by the State of California against the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel lacks both substance and merit and attacks tribal sovereignty,” said a strongly-worded press release. “We look forward to having the opportunity to demonstrate the legality, regulatory veracity and consumer safety of the Tribe’s interactive Class II bingo enterprise.”
Loophole in the Act
The Tribe believes that it has found a loophole in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) that allows it to offer Class II gaming, but it’s a hugely gray area. IGRA was passed in 1988, a year before the invention of the World Wide Web, and therefore makes no provision for internet gaming. California asserts that the Act only intended to permit Class II gaming on tribal land and that offering it remotely violates the compact created between the state and the Iipay Nation back in 2003. The criminal complaint asks for a federal restraining order suspending the bingo site’s operations until the matter is resolved in the courts.
The Iipay ran a land-based casino up until 2007 when it was forced to close, leaving it millions of dollars in debt, and the tribe is clearly preparing to fight its corner. “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,” it states, referring to the Supreme Court decision of 1988 which effectively overturned the laws that restricted gaming on tribal land.
“It is a thinly veiled attempt to weaken tribal governments as the State prepares to negotiate compacts with many of the California Tribes,” it continued. “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 tribe also claims that it has invited officials to review its operations on numerous occasions and that “no representative from the office of the California Governor has accepted the invitation to visit the reservation to discuss Santa Ysabel Interactive.” However, in documents filed to the court last week, the state claims it sent a letter to the Iipay Nation asking for a meeting to discuss its online gambling ambitions, but was rebuffed.
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.