The Morongo Band of Cahuilla Mission Indians want in on the online casino industry. Already operating the Morongo Casino Resort and Spa, the tribe has seen a decline in business during the recession. In an effort to increase revenue, the tribe has teamed with California card clubs to petition the government for a license to operate online casinos in the state. It is an interesting move in that it is a partnership of groups normally thought of as rivals. The Morongo Casino Resort considers the California card clubs competition. In the same way, the card clubs and the tribal casino generally view online casinos as competition. However, both have taken a hit due to the recession and believe that American customers are being lost to overseas online casinos. The two groups are seeking to reclaim some of those lost customers.
As the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) is being attacked in both houses of Congress, with separate bills seeking to repeal it, the Morongo Band and the California card clubs are challenging the ban at a state level. The Morongo’s challenge is particularly interesting because their reservation isn’t technically under the jurisdiction of the state of California or the United States of America.
George Forman, a lawyer for the Morongo Band, is leading the one-two punch with the help of tribal council member Damon Sandoval. Forman’s argument for tribal-run online casinos is that “there is nothing in federal law that prohibits a tribe from participating in state-authorized gaming outside the tribe’s Indian lands.”
The Morongo Band has formed a group called the California Tribal Intrastate Internet Poker Consortium LLC, which is drafting a bill for presentation to the state Congress. As you may imagine, not everyone thinks this is a wonderful idea. The California Tribal Business Alliance rejects the proposal and believes it will lead to a rash of non-Indian online casinos operating in the state. Cheryl Schmidt, spokesperson for Stand Up California, a nonprofit group that opposes an expansion of gambling in the state, claims that “the operation of an online poker site off Indian land also holds potential to be in violation of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.” In other words, she wants the Native Americans to stay on the reservation.
Maybe that was too harsh. Schmidt does have a point. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act does restrict Class III gaming, which includes casino-type games poker, blackjack, slots and more. The Act states that Class III gaming must be “located in a state that permits such gaming for any purpose by any person, organization or entity.” Therefore, since the UIGEA prohibits online casinos in California as well as the rest of the country, an online casino in California run by the Morongo Band would not be allowed. The interesting question, though, is if a tribe does operate an online casino without the permission of the government, by whose authority could the ban be enforced? If the online casino is operated on the reservation, it is not under the jurisdiction of any city, county, state or federal law enforcement agency. It’s a convoluted legal argument to be sure, one in which government officials can expect to be grilled by George Forman.