Legislator Introduces California Cardroom Moratorium Bill Amid Tribal Tensions

Written By Matthew Kredell on January 31, 2023
tribal casinos cardroom moratorium table limits

A new California gaming bill would reinstate prohibitions on cardroom expansion while allowing modest table increases for small cardrooms.

Assemblymember James Ramos introduced AB 341 on Monday. The bill would put back in place cardroom restrictions that expired Jan. 1 after 25 years.

Tribal tensions with the legislature have increased since the cardroom moratorium expired. Tribes aim most of their ire at Sen. Bill Dodd, who blocked a one-year extension to the moratorium last year.

The Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation sent out mailers this month accusing Dodd of being in cahoots with California cardroom interests.

Compromise offered for California cardroom expansion

The Gambling Control Act of 1997 that established a regulatory framework for the CA cardroom industry also set a 10-year moratorium on cardroom expansion. This prohibited both the opening of additional cardrooms and increasing the number of tables at existing cardrooms.

Since then, the legislature has periodically extended the moratorium.

Tribes don’t want to see more cardrooms offering more table games that they deem illegal. Tribes claim that all California cardrooms are operating illegally for the way they offer traditionally house-banked games such as blackjack using third-party bankers.

Most large cardrooms also supported the moratorium because it limited their competition. But cities with small cardrooms lamented not being able to expand their gaming operations over all these years.

The proposed solution:

  • Allow 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 10 additional tables.

Bill would eliminate free-for-all expansion window

As of Jan. 1, the Bureau of Gambling Control has begun taking applications for new cardrooms or cardroom expansions. If approved, it’s the job of the California Gambling Control Commission to issue the licenses.

Any such application first needs local approval. Sources indicate that some lawyers and lobbyists are going around pitching cities on creating new cardrooms.

AB 341 would shut down any such expansions by:

  • Invalidating any application for a new gambling license submitted in 2023.
  • Extending the moratorium another 20 years until Jan. 1, 2043.

The bill includes a carveout for two San Jose cardrooms to expand by 30 tables. Voters approved the expansion in 2020.

Background on California cardroom moratorium battle

Dodd chairs the Senate Governmental Organization Committee that handles gaming issues.

In 2018, his committee agreed to extend the moratorium three more years with the caveat that the parties work out a compromise to allow small cardrooms to expand table games. When that extension was reaching an end, the committee gave them another year.

With a compromise still not reached, Dodd took a stand last year and engineered a 3-3 stalemate to kill the one-year expansion bill in his committee.

The bill had already passed in the Assembly and sources say it would have passed on the Senate floor if it made it out of the committee.

Dodd explained at a committee hearing:

“The point is defeating this bill at this committee here today is the most important thing we can do to get things on track and to get something done. And, frankly, what I’m here to say is this legislature and our committee has been a pawn in this moratorium situation for a long time, maybe 25 years.”

Dodd pledged to work with stakeholders to find a compromise to push early this year. Instead, the legislation starts in the Assembly with Ramos, a member of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians and the first California Indian ever elected to the state legislature.

What’s in Yocha Dehe mailer

Yocha Dehe operates Cache Creek Casino Resort in Dodd’s district, which includes areas between Sacramento and Santa Rosa.

The tribe sent out mailers describing “Bill Dodd’s Bad Deal” in January:

“After taking $94,000 in contributions from card rooms, Bill Dodd began pushing for policies to make it easier for card rooms to open in Napa neighborhoods.”

The mailers go on to cite incidents of cardrooms raising crime in areas. It concludes:

“Bill Dodd was elected to represent the people who live in Napa, not the card rooms that want to open neighborhood casinos in Napa. A $94,000 win for Bill. A Loss for Napa.”

As chair of the Senate committee that handles gaming issues, it’s not unusual that Dodd receives contributions from gaming stakeholders. Many tribes also have contributed to Dodd’s election campaigns, including $13,200 from Yocha Dehe over his last two election campaigns.

Through a spokesperson, Dodd issued a one-word response to PlayUSA on the mailers:


The Yocha Dehe Tribal Council issued the following statement on the mailers:

“Sen. Bill Dodd is supposed to represent the best interest of his constituents and yet has repeatedly shown loyalty to cardrooms known statewide for illegal and indeed criminal activities. During his tenure, he has advocated for the expansion of cardrooms, allowing them to flourish. Californians deserve to know whether their representatives are protecting them from these illegal gambling operations.”

bill dodd yocha dehe wintun nation
This Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation advertisement criticizes gambling policy in California

Tribal venom toward Dodd could affect sports betting

In 2020, Dodd led an effort to find a legislative solution to California sports betting to put in front of voters. Tribes rallied to block the bill.

In November, competing sports betting initiatives from tribes and commercial operators failed badly on the ballot.

A compromise worked out with the legislature creating a single sports betting referendum would have the best chance for passage in the 2024 election.

However, the disconnect between Dodd and tribes over the previous sports betting effort and the cardroom moratorium makes it unlikely for sports betting to find a legislative path in California this year.

Photo by PlayUSA
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Matthew Kredell

Matthew's reporting on the legalization of sports betting began in 2010 with an article for Playboy Magazine on how the NFL was pushing US money overseas by fighting the expansion of regulated sports betting. After graduating from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, Matt started his career as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News. He has written on a variety of topics for Playboy, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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