Iipay Nation Lashes Back at California Regulators
The battle between the southern California Iipay Nation (also known as the Santa Ysabel tribal nation) and both California and federal gaming authorities has moved forward with the filing of the tribe’s latest response to the efforts of California to stop the tribe’s fledgling real-money online gaming efforts.
On Thursday, the California State Attorney General’s office argued before a federal judge in support of its motion for a restraining order barring the Santa Ysabels from continuing to operate their new Desert Rose real-money online bingo site, the first live offering in a planned online suite of games that is also scheduled to include online poker. The tribe rolled out the online-bingo site last month, switching its initial plans in which poker was the first live product to be offered
The Santa Ysabels quickly responded to the state and federal governments’ request for the TRO, filing their own memorandum of opposition, which reiterates that the tribe believes it has the right to offer such Class II gaming as bingo and poker without the cooperation and oversight of the state and federal authorities. The Santa Ysabels, as with many other tribes, have a Class III IGRA-based gaming compact with the state, under which the tribe operated its now-defunct land-based casino northeast of metropolitan San Diego.
In filing its opposition, the tribe’s attorneys wrote:
In a throwback to its unsuccessful mid-1990s efforts to stymie and stifle the progress of IGRA Class II gaming, plaintiff State of California (“State”) once again seeks to undermine tribal sovereignty, innovation and economic initiative by seeking injunctive and declaratory relief from the court declaring that the Tribe may not conduct its legal IGRA Class II bingo gaming.
The State does so using a speculative, factually-flawed Complaint that distorts and misleads as to the real nature of the VPN Aided Class II Gaming being conducted by the Tribe. Contrary to the State’s claims, the genuine, material facts fully demonstrate that the Tribe is not offering “unlawful Internet gambling” or “Class III gaming activities.” Offering legal IGRA Class II bingo gaming is neither a breach of the Tribe’s Class III Tribal-State Compact (“Compact”) of 2003 with the State nor a violation of the federal Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (“UIGEA”). Thus, the State’s claims against the Tribe are barred by the tribal sovereign immunity doctrine and are subject to dismissal for lack of jurisdiction.
As expected, claims of tribal sovereignty and financial hardship anchor the tribe’s opposition to the TRO request, which will be ruled upon by U.S. District Judge Anthony Battaglia within weeks. Here are the six main arguments that the Iipay Nation brought forth in its opposition filing:
- That the state government lacks a legal standard for ordering injunctive relief;
- That tribal sovereignty bars the state’s claims;
- That the state’s claims are meritless;
- That the state will not suffer irreparable harm ig the tribe continues its VPN-aided Class II gaming pending a trial’s outcome;
- That the balance of hardships weighs in the tribe’s favor;
- And that the public interest supports denying injunctive relief.
The new Desert Rose bingo site appears lightly trafficked during its initial weeks of operation, as the tribe itself struggles with the issue in search of a viable revenue stream. Both the bingo and online-poker plans provide significant challenges to the plans of other, wealthier California tribes to launch online-poker, including new legislation that has been offered repeatedly in recent years and will again be considered during the state’s 2015 legislative session.
No timetable has yet been set by Judge Battaglia for a ruling in the matter, though both sides are likely to seek expediency in the case.