October 23, 2023 3 min read


Battle Brews over the Legality of California’s Card Rooms

The long-standing tension between tribal casinos and card rooms may escalate into legal action as tribes call for formal court rulings to settle the matter once and for all

The legal status of California’s commercially operated card rooms is under intense scrutiny as James Siva, Chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA), penned a critical op-ed in Tribal Gaming and Hospitality. The contentious issue centers on whether these establishments, which have evolved from informal games into full-fledged casino-style offerings, violate state law by infringing on tribal exclusive gaming rights.

A New Bill May Finally Resolve This Contentious Issue

California houses 85 card rooms, varying in size from small, intimate venues to expansive facilities with multiple tables. While these card rooms have spread across the state, their legal status remains ambiguous. The CNIGA has endorsed Senate Bill 549 (SB 549), introduced by State Senator Josh Newman, enabling tribes to seek clarity on cardrooms’ legality in court.

This push comes as card rooms expand their offerings to include games like blackjack and baccarat, putting them in direct competition with tribal casinos. Legality remains a contentious issue as card rooms, operators, and tribes jockey for legal recognition and market share, and lobbying efforts reach their peak.

Chairman Siva emphasizes that SB 549’s passage would allow tribes to challenge these establishments’ operations in court, potentially leading to definitive legal rulings. The decision to involve the courts is not without risks, as there’s no guarantee of a judgment in favor of the tribes. However, a legal victory will significantly bolster tribal interests and redefine California’s gaming landscape.

Lawmakers Are Exploring Other Avenues to Settle the Dispute

While SB 549 successfully passed the State Judiciary Committee in July, it has yet to receive a vote in the Senate. Siva noted that the tribe’s arguments managed to sway some committee members, explaining the ongoing delays. He hoped the Senate would vote favorably, finally settling the question of card room legality.

SB 549 would settle, once and for all, a dispute that is sure to come up again and again with the state legislature and attorney general’s office.

James Siva, CNIGA Chairman

Despite the tribes’ efforts, California lawmakers seem reluctant to introduce significant disruptions to the state’s fragile gambling sector. Recently proposed regulations instead seek to regulate cardroom offerings, differentiating them from tribal casinos. For example, the new rules ban any form of blackjack and may impose more such restrictions, easing the tensions between cardrooms and tribal casinos.

As state leaders and lawmakers refrain from taking a stance on card room legality, the matter may inevitably land in the hands of the courts. Despite the popularity of card rooms in some communities and their economic contributions, the debate rages on. The question remains unanswered, leaving tribes and commercial gaming interests in a legal tug-of-war.

Deyan is an experienced writer, analyst, and seeker of forbidden lore. He has approximate knowledge about many things, which he is always willing to apply when researching and preparing his articles. With a degree in Copy-editing and Proofreading, Deyan is able to ensure that his work writing for GamblingNews is always up to scratch.

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