Cardroom Employees Protest Senate Bill 549 at Rally

Over 100 cardroom workers and their supporters gathered in Fullerton on December 6th to protest against a piece of legislation that they fear could result in a loss of income and jobs in the Los Angeles area. The rally was held outside the office of Democratic state Sen. Josh Newman, who is the sponsor of Senate Bill 549, also known as the Tribal Declaratory Relief Act of 2023. The bill has reignited a long-standing conflict between cardroom operators and tribal casinos.

Protesters held signs with messages such as “Say no to 549” and “549 is a bad bet,” as they voiced their opposition to the legislation. The office of Sen. Newman was closed during the event, and Newman did not offer any comments, only stating that the event was orderly.

Under current laws, federally recognized tribes are permitted to offer lottery games, slot machines, and “banked” card games such as traditional blackjack, where the casino acts as the bank processing bets. On the other hand, cardrooms are only allowed to offer “player-dealer” games, including poker and baccarat.

Senate Bill 549 would allow tribal casinos to sue cardroom operators for running “banking card games,” which the tribes argue violates their gaming exclusivity and California law. However, tribal casinos are not currently permitted to file civil lawsuits against cardrooms due to their status as autonomous nations.

Opponents of the bill argue that it could lead to costly lawsuits and job losses, potentially driving cardrooms out of business. The president of the California Cardroom Alliance claimed that the bill is an attempt by wealthy tribes to shut down cardrooms after failing to do so in previous attempts.

The bill is currently awaiting approval from the Assembly Rules Committee and, if passed, would not take effect until early 2024. Sen. Newman stated that the issue will ultimately be decided through legal channels, and it will be up to the California courts to resolve the conflict between cardroom operators and tribal casinos. Despite carrying the bill, Newman stated that he has no stake in the issue and is neutral. He emphasized that the decision will not be made by his office or the legislature, but by the courts.