A bill to reinstate a moratorium on cardroom expansion in California has been amended to regain the support of the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, which operates one of the state's largest casinos near San Diego.
Assembly Bill 341, sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman James Ramos, would reinstate the cardroom moratorium that expired on January 1, 2023 and originally would have allowed licensed cardrooms that operate 20 or fewer tables to add up to 10 new tables over the length of a new 20-year moratorium.
It was that language that Sycuan chairman Cody Martinez objected to and caused the tribe to oppose the measure unless amended to read a cardroom that operates fewer than 20 gaming tables.
“Early in the process, we were asked to review proposed language,” Martinez said. “Once reviewed our tribal council voted to support the language. However, the language that later came out of the Legislative Counsel’s Office was different from the work product we were asked to review.”
Martinez said the original language stated the ordinance would only apply to “gaming establishments that operate fewer than 20 gaming tables,” not the current 20 or fewer tables.
“This small but important change will allow one cardroom owner that has invested in multiple cardrooms to expand in our backyard,” he said. “I’m somewhat confused because the intent of this moratorium is to expand small card clubs, allow for modest growth.”
Martinez, who testified on Tuesday (April 25) before the Senate Governmental Organization Committee, asked Ramos to amend his bill to include the original language.
He noted that committee chairman Bill Dodd, a Democrat, had made it clear that he would not allow any amendments to the measure during Tuesday’s hearing. Martinez said Dodd’s position would “impede the legislative process.”
Prior to the committee voting 11-0, with four members absent, to approve AB 341, Ramos said he would be willing to meet with Martinez to discuss his concerns. He described the measure as a “bill of compromise.”
“This represents a responsible and reasonable approach toward future gaming expansion in California,” he said.
On Thursday (April 27), the Legislative Counsel’s Office posted an amended version of AB 341, reinstating the original language restricting any increase to “gambling establishments that operates fewer than 20 tables.”
Martinez has not confirmed if the amended language would be enough for Sycuan to support the moratorium bill. The Senate Appropriations Committee has scheduled a hearing on AB 341 for May 8.
The bill would allow cardroom operators the option of adding up to two gaming tables in the first year after the law takes effect, and up to two more tables every four years thereafter, ensuring continued growth without expansion. If approved, AB 341 would extend the moratorium for another 20 years until January 1, 2043.
“Our coalition came together last fall to work on a compromise to restore California’s cardroom moratorium,” said Charles Martin, chairman of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians.
“The moratorium should never have expired because it provided California with sensible policy as it relates to cardroom expansion, tribal exclusivity and over-saturating California’s gaming market,” Martin said. “For over 20 years, California voters have consistently opposed unfettered expansion of gaming across California.”
Despite support from some tribes for AB 341, tribal casino operators still believe cardrooms violate their exclusivity over house-banked games by using third-party vendors to offer such games as blackjack.
However, without a moratorium, tribes would face even more competition from an expansion of cardrooms, as cities and counties across the state would be allowed to issue new gaming licenses. The bill also invalidates any license that might have been issued during the year without a moratorium.
Bo Mazetti, chairman of the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians, made it clear to the committee that by supporting AB 341, the Rincon tribe did not “condone the illegal activity that’s going on by the cardrooms and the fact that the attorney general will not enforce the law.”
Senator Steve Glazer, a Democrat, said the “bright line is exclusivity” protecting tribal gaming. He asked Ramos if his bill dealt with the legality of cardrooms.
Ramos explained that the question of legality of the games being played at cardrooms has been looked at by different state attorneys general, but no ruling has deemed them illegal.
“If they were deemed illegal, we would be putting them inside the bill,” Ramos said. “The debate has been going on for well over 15 years. We want to make sure we get the moratorium.”