A new bill introduced in the California Assembly to reinstate a moratorium on cardroom expansion has garnered support from tribal gaming operators and key lawmakers, but the cardroom industry has yet to take a position publicly on the measure.
Assembly Bill 341, sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman James Ramos, would reinstate the cardroom moratorium that expired on January 1, 2023 after 25 years, while including a carve-out for two cardrooms in northern California to expand by 30 tables.
"The cardrooms and the tribes are working collaboratively on this issue," Ramos told VIXIO GamblingCompliance on Thursday (February 2). "Last year, the legislature just ran out of time on reaching an agreement."
"When first proposed by the cardrooms 25 years ago, the moratorium sought to prevent an oversaturation of gaming to ensure the vitality of the cardroom industry," Ramos said. "Those circumstances haven’t changed today, and AB 341 provides a framework for measured growth in the coming years.”
Last year, the failure of the Senate Governmental Organization Committee to pass Senate Bill 637, which would have extended the prohibition by one year, led to the demise of the moratorium and opened the door for the Bureau of Gambling Control (BGC) to accept applications for new cardroom expansions.
If approved by the BGC, the California Gambling Control Commission could issue licenses.
The committee’s final vote was 3-3 with nine committee members not voting.
In opposing SB 637, Senator Bill Dodd, chairman of the committee, expressed his frustration that Senate Bill 576 sponsored by fellow Democratic Senator Bob Archuleta to extend the moratorium to January 1, 2028, had been approved in committee and the full Senate but went nowhere in the Assembly in 2021.
Paul Payne, a spokesman for Dodd, told VIXIO GamblingCompliance the senator had been working closely with Assemblyman Ramos on AB 341.
“He is supportive of it and will be the principal co-author,” Payne said.
Messages left with Becky Warren, who represents the California Gaming Association, a cardroom trade group, were not returned.
“Yes, CNIGA is aware of the bill and have been working with our membership to develop and support the legislation,” said Susan Jensen, executive director of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA). “At our last meeting, the members voted to support the draft language as the bill had not yet been introduced.”
Jensen said CNIGA membership will meet again on February 10 “where they will vote to formally support AB 341.”
The moratorium that restricts expansion of existing cardrooms or the licensing of new facilities went into effect on January 1, 1996. In 2018, Assembly Bill 1168 was approved to extend the moratorium by three years to January 1, 2023.
“At the end of the legislative session last year, CNIGA committed to working with the legislature and stakeholders to address the issue,” Jensen told VIXIO. “AB 341 is the product of that commitment.”
If approved, AB 341 would invalidate any application submitted to the BGC in 2023 and extend the moratorium for another 20 years until January 1, 2043.
In his bill, however, Ramos does allow for two San Jose cardrooms to expand by 30 tables after voters approved the expansion in 2020.
Voters in San Jose also approved raising the tax rate on Casino Matrix and Bay 101 cardrooms from 15 percent to 16.5 percent, in exchange for each cardroom adding an additional 15 table games.
The legislation also proposes allowing cardrooms with 20 or fewer tables to add two additional tables the first year, then two more tables every four years until they reach a maximum of ten additional tables.
Ramos further proposes to allow any authorized increase in table games by a city or county while there was no moratorium to remain operative on and after January 1, 2024.
Ramos is the first Native American to be elected to the California Assembly, and represents parts of San Bernardino County some 63 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, including the cities of Highland, Redlands and San Bernardino. His district also includes the San Manuel Yaamava’ Resort and Casino.
On Tuesday (January 31), Lynn Valbuena, chairwoman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, joined with leaders from four other tribes in issuing a joint statement in support of AB 341.
“We believe the proposed legislation by Assemblymember Ramos provides a balance by allowing for a measured expansion of California’s cardroom industry,” the joint statement said.
“We look forward to working with the legislature, the cardroom industry and the tribal community on finding a balance that is consistent with California voters support of tribal gaming.”
Valbuena joined with Cahuilla Band of Indians Tribal chairman Daniel Salgado Sr., Morongo Band of Mission Indians chairman Charles Martin, Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians Tribal chairman Kenneth Kahn, and Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians Tribal chairman Isaiah Vivanco in expressing support for the moratorium’s reinstatement.