The Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel violated the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act when it launched a real-money online bingo site, DesertRoseBingo, in 2014.
That was the opinion of a federal judge in California this week, whose judgement effectively put an end to the tribe’s go-it-alone online poker ambitions.
The Iipay Nation was determined to offer online poker and bingo from their reservation in San Diego County, California, regardless of whether the Golden State ever got round to legalizing it or not (they didn’t).
What’s more, the tribe believed it was its sovereign right to do so, in accordance with Indian Gaming and Regulations Act 1988 (IGRA).
IGRA permits federally recognized tribal nations to operate class II gaming, like poker and bingo, without special dispensation from the state, provided the games take place on tribal lands.
But since IGRA predated the internet, the rules on the online varieties were open to interpretation.
To test the water, the nation launched DesertRoseBingo and promised that a poker site would follow imminently, but it never got the chance. Legal action came swiftly and a federal restraining order took the bingo site offline until the matter could be resolved in the courts.
Both the federal government and the State of California argued that because participants in the games were not necessarily based on tribal lands, the operation violated UIGEA.
The State of California also argued that the tribe was in violation of its compact with the state because, while bingo and poker were defined as class II gaming, the online versions, unforeseen by IGRA, were something different.
They were, argued California, more like “electronic facsimiles” which fall into the class III category.
No Violation of Compact with California
While Judge Anthony J. Battaglia of the US District Court for the Southern District of California Judge Anthony J. Battaglia, dismissed the latter claim, he agreed with the former.
“When IGRA and UIGEA are read together, it is evident that the phrase ‘on Indian lands’ was intended to limit gaming to those patrons who participate in the gaming activity while in Indian country,” he wrote.
“Were the Court to give IGRA the broad construction Tribal Defendants urge, under no circumstances would the United States be able to enforce UIGEA where some portion of the activity originates from servers located on Indian lands.”
The Iipay Nation is yet to issue an official statement on the ruling. In the past, it has been defiant in the face of its various legal challenges, claiming, for example, that the State of California was attacking not just its own sovereignty “the sovereignty of all tribes.” But now, having received full legal clarification, it has little recourse but to comply with the rules.