California Card Rooms Say New State Regulations Could Force Them to Fold

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Officials at California card rooms say that new rules proposed by the state’s Bureau of Gambling Control could cause them to lose customers, and even cause some establishments to shut down.

California card rooms regulations
California card rooms are facing proposed rule changes that could complicate their ability to offer variations on games like blackjack and baccarat. (Image: Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

While the proposed regulations wouldn’t impact poker games directly, they could make it a lot more complicated for card rooms to offer other games that help keep the venues profitable.

New Rules Complicate Modified Table Games

Along with poker, California card rooms are able to offer versions of some casino table games like baccarat, pai gow poker, and blackjack, though state gaming regulations require they play slightly differently than they would at a typical resort.

Generally, players compete against the house in these games, winning and losing money from the casino itself. However, California law gives Native American casinos the exclusive right to offer house-banked games thanks to compacts between the state and tribal groups.

Instead, card rooms can offer only player-banked games, in which players are technically competing against each other, not the venue itself. An employee of the card room still acts as the dealer, but someone at the table collects losing bets and pays out the winners.

Right now, this arrangement still works for players. Most of the time, a licensed third-party business acts as the banker, with the card room taking a small fee from each player on each hand.

Last week, the Bureau of Gambling Control released new proposed rules that could change this system. Instead of one full-time banker, each player at the table would be required to act as the banker, with that role switching every two rounds. Any player who refuses to take their time as the banker will not be allowed to play in the game. If there is nobody who wants to be the banker, then the game must stop.

California Card Rooms Offer More Than Poker

Industry insiders say that these new rules could lead to confusion, make games more complicated for players, and turn away less experienced gamblers who are not comfortable taking on the banker role.

If these regulations were adopted as proposed, they would kill the card room industry and devastate dozens of communities and thousands of working California families across the state,” The California Gaming Association said in a statement, according to the Los Angeles Times. “This proposal is a clear attack on the card room industry and a message that the bureau is intent on eliminating this lawful $5.6 billion industry and putting 32,000 Californians out of work.”

There are 72 card rooms currently in operation in California, including well-known venues like the Bicycle Hotel and Casino and the Commerce Casino near Los Angeles. While California card rooms traditionally offered only poker, they successfully lobbied for the right to offer modified table games in 2001, a year after Native American tribes were given their monopoly over house-banked games.

The new rules have been in the works for some time, with the Bureau of Gambling Control beginning hearings on card room regulations about a year ago. Until last week’s announcement, there had been little indication as to what those new rules might be. The bureau says testimony about the proposed changes will be heard at a Dec. 18 hearing in Sacramento.

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