Cardroom employees protest another California bill aimed at non-tribal gambling – Daily News

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More than 100 LA-area cardroom employees and supporters gathered Wednesday, Dec. 6 in Fullerton to protest a bill they fear could fuel wide-ranging job and revenue losses for their industry.

The rally was held outside the office of Democratic state Sen. Josh Newman whose Senate Bill 549 — otherwise known as the Tribal Declaratory Relief Act of 2023 — has reignited a decades-long conflict between tribal casinos and cardroom operators.

Opponents of the bill say the casinos are simply looking for a way to squash competition from cardrooms.

Federally recognized tribes have the freedom to offer slot machines, lottery games and “banked” card games — like traditional blackjack, in which the casino acts as the bank handling wagers.

Cardrooms, by contrast, can only provide “player-dealer” games, such as poker, pai gow, baccarat and Texas Hold ‘Em.

SB 549 would provide standing for Indian casinos to sue cardroom operators they claim are operating “banking card games” in violation of state law and tribal gaming exclusivity. Tribal casinos currently can’t file civil actions against rival cardrooms because they are a soveriegn nation and don’t have the legal standing to do so.

Keith Sharp, president of the California Cardroom Alliance, said SB 549 is “a thinly veiled attempt to close down cardrooms by the same few wealthy tribes who have failed in their repeated attempts to shut us down for years.”

Cardrooms have been lawfully operating under federal, state and local laws for decades, he argued, and they’re highly regulated by the California Gambling Control Commission and Attorney General’s Department of Justice.

He said SB 549 already was, in effect, rejected by voters “as it contains similar language and intent that was in last year’s Prop 26.

Opponents of SB 549 say it will force cardrooms to address frivolous and costly lawsuits from tribal casinos and could potentially result in hundreds of job losses, putting cardrooms with excessive legal costs out of business.

Shavon Moore-Cage, executive assistant to the city manager of Hawaiian Gardens, said her city’s finances would take a big hit if The Gardens Casino were forced to shut down in the face of tribal lawsuits.

“The tax revenue we get from our cardroom represents 68% of our city’s general fund,” she said. “For other cities, that might be 18% to 40%, but we are a worst-case scenario. This money funds public safety, after-school programs, senior services and fire services.”

The bill is currently before the Assembly Rules Committee. If approved, it would likely not take effect before early next year.

“The bill does not answer the question, nor does it take sides,” Newman said in an interview Wednesday. “It simply allows the courts to take this up and offer a ruling. I’m carrying the bill, but I have no cardrooms in my district nor tribal lands, so I’m pretty neutral on this. But I sympathize with the argument that this is something the courts should be allowed to decide.”

Toting signs that read “549 is a bad bet” and “Say no to 549,” cardroom workers at Wednesday’s rally were adament about getting their message out. Newman’s office was closed during rally and he didn’t offer any remarks, but he said the event was orderly.

Ana Gonzalez, a dealer at The Gardens Casino cardroom in Hawaiian Gardens, said she and her family would financially suffer if The Gardens had to shut down in the face of tribal lawsuits.

“SB 549 is personal,” said the 46-year-old La Mirada resident and breast cancer patient. “It would totally affect my life.”

Newman said the issue will ultimately be resolved through legal channels.

“I appreciate that this is an important question for both sides and that the action in front of my office is a way of demonstrating it’s important,” he said. “But my office and Legislature will not decide this. It will be in the hands of California courts.” 

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