Some casinos are refusing to revert to cards-only games - Monday 23rd of January 2006
Setting the stage for a possible legal showdown, several California tribes including two in San Diego County are defying an edict from state gambling regulators to remove or replace card-based craps games that use dice.
JOHN GASTALDO / Union-Tribune
A dealer at the Pauma Casino prepared for a round of craps that uses cards to comply with an edict from state regulators banning the use of dice. Some casinos such as Pala, which uses dice-like cubes (below), have refused to comply.
After waffling for months, the attorney general's Division of Gambling Control recently sent notices to every gaming tribe in the state, warning they had to stop using dice in the popular table game by June 15 to be in compliance with California's tribal-state gambling compacts.
Some tribes, such as East County's Barona and Sycuan, shut down their craps games or reverted to a format based entirely on cards.
But others, including Rincon and Pala in the North County, are refusing to bow to the directive, saying their games are compact-legal.
"It's a matter of principle," said Rincon attorney Scott Crowell. "We're leaving (the game) up because we believe we have a right to do it, and it's a profit-generator for the tribe."
Instead of backing down, Rincon has triggered the first step of a formal compact dispute-resolution process, calling for "meet and confer" sessions with state regulators before the end of the month.
"Absent the state accepting our argument," Crowell said, "it's going to require arbitration or a federal judge to resolve."
The disagreement could become the third high-profile legal dispute between tribes and the Schwarzenegger administration, extending a long history of friction in California over the scope of gaming permitted in Indian casinos.
In January, the Pechanga and Morongo tribes of Riverside County agreed to remove or reconfigure hundreds of video lottery machines at the state's insistence. The tribes had argued that the devices, which mimic slot machines, did not count against their 2,000-machine limits. The state disagreed.
Comparing the games
Roll of two dice determines the outcome of play.
Not legal in California.
Two cards drawn from 12 determine play.
Legal in state tribal casinos.
Card-based craps with dice
Roll of two dice decides the selection of two cards out of 12, which determine outcome of play.
Legality in California is disputed.
In a separate dispute, the same tribes are challenging the state's decision to count each terminal of electronically linked games as an individual slot machine. They contend all terminals at so-called multiple-station games should count as a single gaming device.
The latest dispute over dice games centers on contrasting interpretations of California's tribal-state gambling compacts, which allow Indian casinos to have slot machines, card games, lotteries and off-track wagering on horse races. But craps and roulette are still barred by state law.
In craps, as it's played in Nevada, gamblers roll two dice down a long table and win or lose based on the outcome of each roll.
In 2002, the North County's Pauma tribe was the first in the state to unveil what it considered a legal version of the game. It used a real craps table and identical wagering as in Las Vegas. But instead of dice, a player's "roll" consisted of two cards, numbered 1 through 6, dealt from two sets of six. If a 6 card and a 2 card came up, for example, the roll was an 8.
Soon, Pala and Rincon introduced different versions of the game, adding dice or in Pala's case, dice-like cubes to the process. Instead of having two cards randomly dealt or spit from a shuffler, players roll to determine which two cards are selected from two sets of six cards.
In other words, if a player rolls a combination totaling 7 which would be an instant winner or loser in Las Vegas that would only count as a 7 if the corresponding cards on that roll also happen to add up to 7.
At least 10 tribes in the state have similar craps games, each varying slightly. Each has been approved by that tribe's own gaming commission, and each tribe insists it is a card game, not a dice game.
"We know the state has some questions as to whether the Pala craps game is a valid game under the gaming compact. We firmly believe it is a valid game," said Jerry Turk, Pala Casino managing partner. "The cards determine the outcome of the game."
JOHN GASTALDO / Union-Tribune
The "boxman" at the Pala Casino collected money from patrons at a craps table. Pala and Rincon still use dice or dice-like cubes, while Sycuan and Barona, the other two San Diego County tribal casinos that had craps games in dispute, eliminated or converted their games.
Tribes had previously gotten conflicting signals from the state on whether the knockoff versions of craps and similar card-based roulette are legal. The record shows Attorney General Bill Lockyer's staff wrestled with the question.
An advisory issued by the Division of Gambling Control in January 2004 concluded that games known as "California Roulette" and "California Craps" were legal in the Indian casinos. State attorneys said both were house-banked card games permitted in the compacts.
That advisory was modified although its conclusion was not altered before it was posted on the attorney general's Web site with an April 30, 2004, date.
The office reversed itself in a third advisory dated Feb. 1.
"The California Division of Gambling Control considers any house-banked games played with dice, whether or not they incorporate the use of cards, to be unauthorized" under compacts negotiated in 1999, the advisory stated. None of the compacts negotiated since, however, has permitted Nevada-style craps, roulette or any other dice games.
Each advisory included a disclaimer that it did not constitute legal advise.
Division spokesman Tom Dresslar said the casinos are being inspected to check for use of dice.
"We'll have more information to provide once we're done with the final inspections," he said. "If there's failure to comply, then there's a dispute resolution process that kicks in. Some have complied, some haven't, and maybe there's some that don't plan to."
Pala attorney Howard Dickstein, who also represents three Northern California tribes with similar games, said he is seeking an informal compromise in discussions with state regulators.
"If they feel strongly enough about it, they'll trigger a process under our compact to get a determination," he said. "Until they do, we'll maintain the status quo."
Dickstein called the June 15 deadline "a warning shot across the bow."
"That doesn't mean you cringe and comply," he said. "It means you evaluate the position and you respond, and hopefully some resolution is reached informally."
In San Diego County, two other casinos, Sycuan and Barona, had the disputed craps games but didn't want to take any risks. Sycuan removed its one craps table June 17, and Barona converted its two tables to a cards-only format like Pauma's on June 14.
"We thought the prudent thing to do was to pull it off the floor," said Adam Day, Sycuan assistant tribal manager.
At Barona, casino manager Nick Dillon said the tribe "didn't want to risk being in breach of the compact." He said customers would rather be rolling dice to select a pair of winning or losing cards.
"Even though the dice didn't determine the outcome, they felt more a part of it," Dillon said. "It generated more excitement on the table as opposed to a floor person just yanking two cards out of a (dealing) shoe."
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