Controversial Bill Permitting Tribes to Sue California Cardrooms Faces Backlash

A new bill, SB 549, has sparked a fierce debate in California, allowing tribes to sue cardrooms, claiming they violate tribal rights. California tribes hold exclusive rights to Las Vegas-style casino gambling, and the bill is currently under review in the general assembly.

Protesters gathered in force, displaying banners with messages like “No on SB 549!” and “Bad Bet For California.” The crowd chanted, “We’re not fine with 549!” Local politicians and city representatives delivered speeches highlighting the potential negative impacts of the bill on California cardrooms. Marcel Rodarte, executive director for the California Contracts Cities Association, emphasized, “SB 549 is a bill that will negatively harm many of our cities who have cardrooms located in their communities. Cardrooms are an integral part of our cities as they provide jobs.”

Economic Impact on Cardrooms

The core of the dispute lies in whether cardrooms are bypassing restrictions that prevent them from acting as the “house” or the “bank” in certain games. The California Gambling Association estimates that SB 549 could result in the loss of approximately 32,000 jobs, potentially forcing cardrooms to close or downsize. Consequently, cardrooms have been lobbying vigorously against the bill.

In 2023, Hawaiian Gardens Casino in Los Angeles County spent $9.1 million on lobbying, making it the second-highest spender among lobbying groups reported to state regulators, trailing only Chevron Corporation. Tasha Cerda, mayor of the City of Gardena, spoke passionately at the protest, stating, “Our two cardrooms have been the backbone of our community as they will provide vital tax services that our city uses to fund vital public services which allow us to provide a better quality of life for our residents and communities. Our cardrooms employ over 1,200 residents and individuals from surrounding communities. That’s over $47 million in wages a year.”

As the debate over SB 549 continues, both sides remain steadfast in their positions. Tribes argue for their exclusive rights, while cardrooms emphasize their economic contributions and the potential job losses the bill could cause. The outcome of this legislative battle will have significant implications for the future of gambling in California.

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