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Iipay Nation Releases Statement after Online Bingo Takedown

Southern California’s Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel Indians has pledged to continue its ongoing fight against California authorities and gaming regulators.  The Santa Ysabels were forced to take down their real-money online poker site, Desert Rose Bingo, early this week.

desert-rose-bingo-logoLast Friday, the California Attorney General’s office was successful last Friday in receiving a temporary restraining order designed to force the Santa Ysabel’s operation offline.  The Desert Rose site remained active over the weekend, but on Monday real-money action ceased, pending possible continuing action.

Also on Monday, the Santa Ysabel nation and Santa Isabel Interactive, the tribal entity specifically responsible for governance and operation of the online site, quietly released a statement indirectly acknowledging the site’s forced removal, though promising that the cash-strapped tribe’s attempts to offer online gambling to California residents will continue.

As can be seen in the excerpt that follows, the tribe plans to continue pursuing twin legal arguments — that the bingo game in question is a Class II, and not a Class III, game, and that the tribe’s claimed sovereignty regarding its gaming offerings is being usurped via the state’s challenge.

Here’s the meat of the Santa Ysabel statement:

Iipay Nation Of Santa Ysabel: We Will Continue Fight For Sovereign Right To Conduct Interactive Bingo

SANTA YSABEL, Calif., Dec. 15, 2014 — The Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel, a federally recognized tribe in Southern California, released the following statement today after the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California ruled against the tribe’s sovereign right to offer Class II bingo games to California residents. Late last week, Judge Anthony J. Battaglia granted the State’s request for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) that would temporarily suspend the Tribe’s operation of its browser-accessed proxy play Class II bingo enterprise – Desert Rose Bingo – within the State of California.

“We are deeply disappointed by the federal court’s decision to grant the State’s TRO,” said Cruz Bustamante, spokesman for Santa Ysabel Interactive, the Tribe’s economic development enterprise. “This decision poses a significant threat to tribal jurisdiction over Class II gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. It declares one-touch bingo and proxy play of games to be illegal and turns a blind eye to federal laws and precedent permitting technological advancements to aid in the play of Class II bingo. These are very dangerous and significant pronouncements for Indian Country.”

Prior to IGRA, federal laws governing gaming on Tribal lands did not exist. The IGRA, for the first time, set the legislative basis for regulating Indian gaming nationally. The law encouraged economic development on Tribal lands and established gaming as a means of generating revenue for Tribes.

“If the State ultimately prevails on these important tribal sovereignty issues, the ultimate losers will be small, economically disenfranchised tribes in California and throughout the country,” continued Cruz. “We remain hopeful that as the case progresses the court will make every effort to understand the game and its technology, ultimately realizing that the games being offered are by definition legal Class II games.” …

The twin arguments that the tribe believes are the core issue will also directly affect the future of tribal-based online poker and other forms of online gaming, particular in California, where an ongoing series of online-poker bills has been considered in recent years.

The argument regarding Class II versus Class III gaming for the tribe’s online bingo will likely take a full federal court case to resolve.  On Friday, US District Judge Antony Battaglia ruled that by creating a facsimile game (the Desert Rose online bingo) that required no player interaction, the game jumped from Class II to III as defined under IGRA and was therefore subject to state-level compact negotiations.

The claim of tribal sovereignty is also up for legal examination, with precedent not necessarily on the tribe’s side.  The online bingo and online poker as envisioned by the Iipay Nation invokes tribal sovereignty for all Californians who might play on the tribe’s sites.  Such a concept, if left unchallenged by the state, would effectively and legally attempt to extend the tribe’s claimed sovereignty into the private homes and electronic devices of off-reservation, non-tribal California citizens; the tribe would self-adjudicate all gaming disputes arising from its services and would not work with or accede to the oversight of California gaming regulators.

The off-reservation sovereignty claims affect, to the same degree, the constitutional legality of the online poker bills currently under debate in Sacramento, the state’s capital.  Those bills do not directly include the Santa Ysabels or the tribe’s Desert Rose operation but are instread sponsored by far more powerful consortium of 12 of the state’s most powerful, casino-owning tribes.  Nonetheless, a similar — and highly suspect — invocation of off-reservation sovereign rights has been inserted into every tribal-backed bill to date.

Because of that, the Santa Ysabels’ pending argument regarding the legality of its services could throw a legal monkey wrench into California’s ongoing flirtation with online poker legislation.  That in turn could cause reverberations that crash into the foundation of the decades-old IGRA tribal-gaming framework itself.

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