California Gov. Gavin Newsom Signs Moratorium on New Card Rooms 

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California won’t be seeing any new card room licenses issued for at least 20 years. That’s thanks to Assembly Bill 341, which Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law on Tuesday.

Such a law has been on the books since 2022, when the previous moratorium expired. Lawmakers had been regularly extending legislation in the 1997 Gambling Control Act relating to card rooms. But disputes over the precise wording last year meant any extensions to the law were on hold.

This moratorium on new card room licenses is one idea that both the state’s Native American tribues and cardrooms agree on. California’s tribes have long been vociferously opposed to gambling expansion in most forms, or at least where they’re not involved in running it.

Limited Expansion

The main sticking point in last year’s negotiations was the existing card room’s desire to have some possibilities for expansion. Under the previous law, there was no provision for existing venues to build and grow, and they argued that this deprived communities of extra tax dollars. 

However, others were less enthused about that idea. Many of California’s tribes point out that these card rooms often offer so-called “California blackjack,” which uses rules on poker rooms and player bankers to get around state restrictions on casino gaming.

“The prospect of unlimited cardroom gaming expansion without properly examining the impact this expansion will have on local communities,” said California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA) executive director Susan Jensen.

The new law signed by Governor Newsom will allow some expansion. A city or county in California will be able to vote on “an increase in the number of gambling tables that may be operated in a gambling establishment that operates fewer than 20 tables. By up to 2 additional tables the first year, and up to 2 additional tables every 4 years thereafter, as provided” it said. 

Historic Consensus

California Assemblymember and Native American James Ramon (D-San Bernardino) introduced the bill, and was positive about its potential effects. 

“I am happy to have brought the tribes and card rooms together in a historic consensus that has resulted in the bipartisan AB 341 becoming law,” he said.

“This will help ensure the vitality of the gaming industry by allowing for measured cardroom growth without over-expansion over the next 20 years.”

The new bill has retrospective enforcement, meaning any cardrooms that did speculatively apply for a new license during the interim period of the restrictions will not be considered. 

California voters rejected online and offline sports betting in 2004, and again 2022. Last year’s Proposition 27 to legalize online sports betting failed by one of the widest margins in state history, with 83.05% of voters, or some 6.4 million people, voting against. 

The tribe’s bid to legalize in-person sports betting at their tribal casinos, Proposition 26, got more support (31%), but still failed to pass 2022’s public vote.

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