Thursday, September 06, 2007

Cates v. California Gambling Control Comm'n (Cal. Ct. App. - Sept. 6, 2007)

Want to have faith in the California bureaucracy? Then don't read this case.

The California Gambling Control Commission is responsible, inter alia, for collecting revenue from the various Indian tribes that maintain casinos in the state. There's a specific definition of how much the tribes have to pay California, which consists of a specified percentage of the "average device net win," and the term "net win" is further defined as the difference between gaming wins and losses before deducting costs and expenses. Seems easy, right?

Read the first fourteen pages of the opinion to see how exactly the Commission does its job in this regard. Or, rather, entirely fails to do its job. It seems like the tribes essentially pay the state whatever amount they feel like paying, based upon their own internal definition of what a "net win" should be, the Commission knows they're doing that, but just sits around and twiddles its thumbs. And when a taxpayer brings an action to get the Commission off its duff, well, then the Commission does indeed do something pretty vigorous. Specifically, it fights tooth and nail to defeat the lawsuit and thereby avoid the mandatory requirement that it do its job and collect the appropriate level of revenue for the state.

One does not get a particularly favorable view of the California Gambling Control Commission from reading the case. And Justice McIntyre reverses the grant of summary judgment entered on behalf of the Commission in part, in my view, based upon the not-so-stellar impression that one gets upon reading the undisputed facts. My favorite line from the opinion, which essentially summarizes the problem here:

"We are at a loss to understand exactly how the Commission can possibly 'insure the mathematical accuracy of the reports' when 'net win' is a critical element in calculating the
contribution amount, but the Commission purportedly does not know how 'net win' is defined. It appears from the evidence presented that the Commission is simply verifying the accuracy of mathematical calculations set forth in the reports submitted by the tribes without confirming that the numbers used to perform the calculations are those called for by the Compact. Needless to say, the Commission cannot collect and account for Fund contributions and collect and analyze the reports submitted by the tribes without knowing the definition of 'net win.'"

Seems exactly right to me.