Judge Rules Indian Online Bingo Unlawful

Operating an online bingo site at the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel reservation violates the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) a federal judge ruled last week. The tribe tried to be the first in California to operate online gaming.

The Iipay Nation Of Santa Ysabel in San Diego County cannot legally operate an online bingo site Desert Rose Bingo, Judge Anthony Battaglia of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California ruled last week.

In doing so two years ago the tribe violated the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006, Battaglia ruled. He granted a permanent injunction against the tribe to operate DesertRoseBingo.com

Both the federal government and the state of California had sued the tribe. The ruling is the latest in a series of blows to the tribe, which was forced to close its unprofitable Santa Ysabel Resort and Casino two years ago and had tried to recover by being the first tribe in the Golden State to offer online gaming for real money.

The tribe had argued that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) exempted it from UIGEA.

Battaglia disagreed. In his 34-page ruling he wrote, “It is beyond dispute that IGRA applies to only that which is conducted on Indian lands. But what of gaming that derives from servers located on Indian lands and utilizes the Internet to reach beyond the borders of Indian country to patrons physically located within states where gambling is illegal? This is precisely the issue presented by this case.”

He agreed with the state and federal attorneys’ point that while gaming is allowed on Indian lands, that most of the players would not be on Indian land.

He wrote, “When IGRA and UIGEA are read together, it is evident that the phrase ‘on Indian lands’ was intended to limit gaming to those patrons who participate in the gaming activity while in Indian country,” he wrote. “Were the Court to give IGRA the broad construction Tribal Defendants urge, under no circumstances would the United States be able to enforce UIGEA where some portion of the activity originates from servers located on Indian lands.”

The tribe won on one minor point: the judge dismissed the state’s contention that the tribe had breached its tribal state gaming compact.

The tribe launched the bingo site to test the waters of online gaming, and announced its intention to eventually open an online poker site.

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