Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel Bingo Site draws Lawsuit from California

Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel Bingo Site draws Lawsuit from California

On November 17th, the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel opened an online bingo site, the first such real money iGaming site in California history. And already, the Golden State is taking action by leveling a lawsuit at the Indian tribe.

Kamala Harris, California’s Attorney General, filed for an injunction to stop the Iipay Nation tribe from running their online bingo site. At the heart of the matter is that California believes Iipay Nation is violating both the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006 and the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) of 1998. Here’s an excerpt from California’s lawsuit that explains the matter further:

The tribe believes that it has found a loophole in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) that permits the offering of “Class II gaming,” defined in the act as poker and bingo. The tribe has underlined that it is interested only in Class II online gaming. “House-banked games and slot machines are defined as Class III games, and can only be offered in a tribal casino upon agreement with the state through a Tribal-State Gaming Compact,” it says on its website. “Santa Ysabel has had such a compact with the state since 2005, but has no plans to offer Class III gaming through its interactive website.”

However, it’s an incredibly gray area. IGRA was drawn up in 1988 and therefore makes no provision for internet gambling. Furthermore, the state believes that the offering of any form of gaming to Californians who are not based on tribal land is a breach of both state and federal law, pure and simple.

As can be seen in this passage, the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel believes that since bingo is a Class II game – of which California Indian tribes can run – they’re legally within their right to offer internet bingo. Moreover, Iipay Nation has sovereign status as an American Indian tribe.

But California, which may legalize online poker in 2015, believes they can challenge Iipay Nation’s right to offer online bingo on the grounds that the internet is undefined. The Class II billing for internet poker and bingo only officially covers them as land-based casino games.

Perhaps California hopes to prove that such online casino games could be considered of the Class III variety – i.e. slots, blackjack, craps, roulette. In the Class III situation, the IGRA states that there must be an agreement in place before an Indian tribe can start offering the games.