Calif. electronic bingo machine ban upheld

By Chris Rizo | Dec 12, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline)--California charities may not use electronic bingo machines, a federal appeals court panel ruled this week.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that charitable entities in the state cannot skirt a state law banning bingo machines, saying that live-call bingo games violate the Americans With Disabilities Act because it discriminates against players with disabilities.

The panel's ruling Wednesday strikes down a preliminary injunction issued by U.S. District Judge John Mendez that prohibited the state California Bureau of Gambling Control and Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness from enforcing the state's ban on electronic bingo machines by non-Native Americans.

The appeals court's order takes effect in 21 days from Wednesday.

On the three-judge panel was Judges J. Clifford Wallace of San Diego, Calif.; Sidney Thomas of Billings, Mont.; and Jay Bybee of Las Vegas.

"In the past year, California's Legislature and its governor - the public's elected representatives - approved a law both proscribing the precise electronic bingo machines at issue in this case and providing for accommodations for disabled persons wishing to play live-call bingo," their ruling said. "The people of California have thus repeatedly expressed, and recently affirmed, their interest in strictly regulating gambling in their state, including charitable bingo."

In June 2008, Video Gaming Technologies, a manufacturer of bingo machines, two Sacramento County charities and two disabled residents of the county sued to block enforcement of the state ban on the machines, which look like slot machines.

In March, the 9th Circuit invalidated the injunction, remanding the case back to the trial court for reconsideration in light of a new U.S. Supreme Court decision that established a four-pronged test for preliminary injunctions.

At retrial, Mendez again issued a preliminary injunction against the ban, outlined in Senate Bill 1369, passed in the 2008 state Legislature.

After the March ruling, state Attorney General Jerry Brown's office told bingo halls they must begin removing the "illegal gambling machines" immediately.

The law has been the subject of sharp criticism from charities who say the ban will have a serious impact on their ability to raise money.

Brown's critics have charged that his interest was largely to protect Indian Casinos, which have been big donors to his campaign account.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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