A California Assembly bill that would allow some existing card rooms to increase their number of gaming tables passed the full Assembly late last week and is headed to the Senate.
The bill strikes something of a compromise between existing card rooms and the state’s tribes, which have long contended that the card rooms are operating illegally. The bill got a first reading in the Senate last week, but no further action has been taken.
AB 341, which passed the House by a vote of 68-1, would extend a moratorium on the opening of new card rooms until Jan. 1, 2043. It allows card rooms with fewer than 20 tables in some jurisdictions to increase their number of tables by two in the first year after the bill becomes law and two every four years after that, up to 10 new tables. There had been a moratorium on new card room licenses dating back to the 1997 Gambling Control Act. The moratorium expired on Jan. 1, 2023, when the Assembly last year failed to extend it.
According to the text of the bill, tables could be added in cities or counties where an ordinance backing the expansion was passed by a majority of voters after Nov. 1, 2020, but not in cities or counties that voted to allow more tables after Jan. 1, 2023. The bill would also only apply to card rooms that were operating and licensed before Dec. 31, 2022. Any license issued between that date and Jan. 1, 2024, would now be considered invalid.
Only small card rooms would benefit
According to IndianGaming.com, the bill is backed by the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, of which more than 45 California tribes are members, as well as the California Card Room Alliance. The bill would not change anything for the state’s largest card rooms, including the 270-table Commerce Casino in Los Angeles County, but many of the 88 card rooms are across the state are more intimate venues.
One of the two California initiatives concerning sports betting, Prop 26, is an existential threat for card rooms.
The worry? A legal provision in the initiative that would allow private citizens to sue card rooms.
JD unpacks a delicate situtation:https://t.co/7rzGyWw8tl
— Sports Handle (@sports_handle) September 30, 2022
“We believe the rationale for the original card room moratorium still exists today, and it’s why tribes and card rooms worked together on this measure, which we believe is a comprise that provides a balance by allowing measured growth of the card room industry,” Morongo Tribal Chairman Charles Martin said before the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee during a hearing earlier this month, according to IndianGaming.com.
Some individual tribes and card rooms also back the measure.
California’s General Assembly is in session until Sept. 14, and bills introduced in 2023 may be carried over to the 2024 session.
Photo: Jill R. Dorson