Tribal Online Gaming Violates Federal Law, US District Court Judge Rules

Posted on: December 19, 2016, 05:30h. 

Last updated on: December 19, 2016, 05:34h.

Tribal online gaming launched in California by the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel is in direct violation of federal law according to US Southern District of California Judge Anthony Battaglia.

tribal online gaming casinos bingo
A federal judge says tribal online gaming casinos aren’t legal in California, a decision that only further complicates Native American gambling regulations. (Image:

Last week, the district judge ruled that Iipay Nation, the Santa Ysabel Gaming Commission, Santa Ysabel Interactive, and other defendants violated the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA) when it launched real money online bingo games two years ago.

In 2014, the Native American tribe launched Desert Rose Bingo, an internet destination that offered online bingo. The tribe later debuted Private Table, an internet poker room.

Both state and federal authorities quickly filed lawsuits against the sovereign tribe on claims that the websites failed to protect against patrons located physically outside of the tribal grounds from accessing the platforms. California and the US later merged their cases against the Iipay Nation, and last week Battaglia sided with their argument.

In an exhaustive 34-page ruling, Battaglia order the Iipay Nation to immediately stop offering or conducting any gambling or game of chance through internet technologies. The judge also forced the tribe to suspend accepting payments relating to online gambling from anyone outside their designated land.

The Iipay Nation is a small tribe whose land is located near San Diego.


UIGEA made it illegal for payment processors and banks to accept deposits and withdrawals related to online betting from customers in the US. The decree essentially made it nearly impossible for Americans to gamble online.

But Native Americans argued the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), a federal law passed in 1988, exempts tribes from adhering to UIGEA. The Indian statute was enacted in order to protect gaming for sovereign tribes and allow them to generate revenue from casinos.

“It is beyond dispute that IGRA applies to only that which is conducted on Indian lands,” Battaglia wrote in his ruling. “But what of gaming that derives from servers located on Indian lands and utilizes the internet to reach beyond the borders of Indian country to patrons physically located within states where gambling is illegal? This is precisely the issue presented by this case.”

Two years after Desert Rose Bingo was launched, Battaglia reached his verdict that UIGEA trumps IGRA.

National Consequences

Iipay aren’t the only tribal group that has tried to launch an online wagering site in a state where internet gambling isn’t permitted. IGRA says in its legal wording that tribes may offer Class II gaming, which includes poker and bingo, on sovereign land without a compact with the state.

In April of this year, The Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma launched an online poker website and revealed plans to offer real money games in 2017 exclusively to international players. A Western District of Oklahoma judge ruled in favor of the tribe, saying there are “no genuine issues” for allowing a sovereign organization from conducting Class II online gaming to offshore customers.

The California ruling appears likely to muddy the federal government’s position on tribal online gaming.