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Differences Between California Card Rooms And Tribal Casinos

In California, there are a few different forms of legal gambling. They include card rooms, Native American casinos, the California State lottery, pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing, and charitable gaming. While each of these vies for legal market share there are two that directly compete against one another for a lot of the same players – card rooms and Native American casinos.

California Tribal Casinos

In February of 1987, the United States Supreme Court ruled that neither the State of California nor Riverside county in California could regulate bingo and card games operations of the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians and Morongo Band of Cahuilla Mission Indians. They may not have realized it at the time but this court decision often referred to as the Cabazon decision, led to several federal and state legislative acts that caused tribal casino operations to expand. Today, there are nearly 70 tribal casinos in the state of California. 

Indian tribes possess tribal sovereignty due to supreme court decisions in 1831 and 1832 that determined tribes were “independent political communities” with “original natural rights”. As a result of tribal sovereignty tribal activities (including casinos) are generally limited to rule under certain federal laws and federally approved agreements between tribes and state.

In response to the Cabazon decision, Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) in 1988, which outlined the kinds of games tribal casinos could offer and provided the additional legal framework, in which both the tribes and the United States government could use to regulate and operate moving forward. In the year 2000, the state passed Proposition 1A which enabled the governor of California to negotiate agreements with recognized tribes on Native American land to operate slot machines, lotteries, and card games. This modified the state’s Constitution and fully authorized tribal casinos.

After Proposition 1A passed in 2000 each tribe was able to negotiate their compact with the state. Under the agreements between California and its Native American tribes, tribes pay several state government accounts, select state, and local taxes, and select local government accounts.

The Bureau of Gambling Control, the California Gambling Control Commission, and the California Tribal Gaming Agencies (TGA) work hand-in-hand to ensure tribal casinos abide by all gambling regulations in accordance with the IGRA.

Pechanga Resort & Casino

Pechanga Resort & Casino is owned and operated by the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, a Native American tribe in California. It first opened in 2002 and is the largest resort/casino in California and one of the largest in the entire country.

The casino floor is approximately 188,000 square feet, which is larger than the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, NV (156,023 square feet). It offers 3,400 slot machines, over 130 table, and poker games, bingo, off-track betting, over 500 hotel rooms including suite options, a spa, several dining choices, and more.

It is located in the Temecula Valley in Riverside County, just north of San Diego and is easily the valley’s number one employer with over 4,000 employees.

It is difficult to compare Pechanga Resort & Casino with card rooms in the area and the state of California in general. Pechanga possesses more gaming variety, excellent facilities, attractions, entertainment, and is physically larger. The hotel plans to finalize and open expansion that broke ground in 2015, which will add even more to this impressive resort & casino.

California Card Rooms

California state law dictates that gambling establishment obtain and maintain a valid state gambling license, which is overseen by The Bureau of Gambling Control. Card rooms are no exception. Each induvial game, all gaming activities, and work permits must also be approved by the Bureau.

Card rooms in California were initially set up to primarily offer games such as Texas Hold’em and variations of Omaha or player vs. player games.

However, over the last 30 plus years card rooms developed variations of games to be able to offer different card games and still abide by California law which bans card rooms from offering games in which they have a stake in.

Card rooms now offer Pai Gow Poker, California 21 (better known as No Bust Blackjack), Blackjack, and many others as “player-banked games”. By classifying the games as a player-banked and altering the game requirements ever so slightly, card rooms are able to circumnavigate the inability to offer games they possess a stake in and thus offer player vs. house games but in a different format.

Commerce 

Commerce Casino is located in Los Angeles, CA in the city’s suburb of Commerce. It is not only the largest card room in the state but the world. It first opened in 1983 and includes a Crowne Plaza Hotel directly attached, with a day spa, beauty salon, pool and sundeck, and several dining and entertainment options.

Commerce is by far most known for poker. It can be argued that it is the most active poker room in the world. Nevertheless, Commerce offers other games including EZ Baccarat, Pai Gow Poker, Casino War, Blackjack, and more.

The casino sets a pretty high standard when it comes to card rooms and poker in the state of California. For a full review head, over to our review page, here.

Tribal Casinos vs. Card Rooms

As indicated above card rooms offer variations of games known as “player-banked games” to get around the prohibition against house-banked games.

For example, if you were to play Blackjack in any California card room you have the option to play as the dealer (or bank) and the corporation (or house) will play as a player. Each hand counts against your hand and wins or losses by other players are paid using your funds. The corporation either takes a small percentage of each bet made, win or lose or requires a collection fee from each player prior to each hand. The corporation pays a fee for each hand banked just like all the other players.

You would be able to play as the bank twice in a row prior to moving the bank. If you are the only player at the table then you would bank 2 hands, the corporation would bank 2 hands, and back and forth.

Offering players the opportunity to play as the bank for traditional house-banked games is a major difference between tribal casinos and card rooms, and has been a point of contention for several years.

Tribal casinos are allowed to offer house-banked games in their simplest and truest forms. They, in turn, have become frustrated with the way card rooms have provided players alternatives to play as the bank as they recognized that most players do not opt to play as the bank and typically play the games as is. Therefore, card rooms are bending but not breaking laws in their favor to directly compete against tribal casinos.

A few other key differences between tribal casinos and card rooms include age requirements, slot machines, and fees. The minimum age to gamble in state card rooms in California is 21, whereas you can gamble at tribal casinos at age 18. Although, you still need to be 21 to drink alcohol at tribal casinos so it is likely you may be restricted from certain areas inside tribal casinos if you are under 21.

Additionally, tribal casinos offer slot machines and card rooms do not. Tribal casinos also avoid requiring you to pay a collection fee to the house and banker fees. As eluded to in the Blackjack example mentioned above, card rooms collect a small fee from each player prior to each dealing each hand. Typically, it is a $1 fee per $100 bet and bankers must pay a flat $3 fee. Here is a link to the list of collection fees at each California card room.

In terms of playing at either a tribal casino or card room in California, for the most part, you cannot go wrong. It will more than likely come down to your skill level and personal preferences. Card rooms will not offer roulette, craps or machine games in general. But it can be argued that some of the best poker games are inside card rooms in California, particularly in Southern California near Los Angeles.

The fees required at California card rooms are a bit of nuisance so if you are looking for Vegas-style gaming card rooms should not be your first choice. But that is the beauty of California, as tribal casinos are a secondary option where you have the opportunity to play slot machines and avoid collection fees.

It seems like each year or so there are often several newsworthy events or complaints involving both tribal casinos and card rooms typically regarding current or future gaming regulations and/or the interpretation of rules. But that is most likely due to both recognizing the size of the gaming market in California and its popularity. They are both constantly looking to increase market share and attract more players.

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