On January 18th, 2008 a press release was sent out to gaming establishments in California from the Bureau of Gaming Control. The release read as follows:
It has come to the attention of the Bureau of Gambling Control that some gambling establishments conduct "ladies only" poker tournaments that exclude men from participating, or admit them on different terms from those accorded to women. It is the Bureau's view that such tournaments may violate California's anti-discrimination laws.
Under the Unruh Civil Rights Act (Civil code sections 51 and 51.5), businesses may not discriminate in admittance prices, or services offered to customers based on the customers sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, martial status, or sexual orientation. "Ladies Only" tournaments or any other promotional events that fail to admit men and women to advertised activities on an equal basis regardless of sex are unlawful. It may also be unlawful under the Unruh Act to advertise tournaments as "ladies only" even if men are in fact admitted.
The Bureau will approve only those events that include the following features: the event will be open to all customers, the promotional gifts will be given equally to all participants, the fees and prices will be the same for all event participants, any discounts will not be based on gender or another personal characteristics protected by the Unruh Act, and the events promotional materials do not advertise gender-based discounts or imply a gender-based entrance policy or any other unlawful discriminatory practice.
Gambling establishments should take notice that pursuant to Business and Professional Code section 125.6, violations of the Unruh Act are cause for discipline under the Gambling Control Act.
In short, all California card rooms will be making the necessary changes in their advertisements and room guidelines as a result of this warning letter.
A spokesperson from The Bicycle Club is quoted as saying, "Our advertisements are pretty generic. The events in the past for women are titled such as Queen of Queens and Luck Be a Lady. We simply will comply and add – 'open to all' or 'all are welcome." Hopefully, this will put their ads into compliance with the law. Any men are welcome to play in the ladies events as they always have been. But they are no longer labeled as "only" events.
The Commerce Casino has a major ladies event happening in association with the organization, Ladies Poker Association. Crystal Osgood-Grey, founder of the LPA, has been a supporter and organizer of women's-only events for over a year. She recognized the problem of using the word "only" when the first man registered for a women's tournament and the hosting casino let him play. I asked Crystal about this very situation last October. What will happen if the gaming commission makes these events open due to discrimination? Crystal was honest in replying, "Everyone will have to comply." In the wake of the official letter from the state's gaming commission, Crystal said, "The LPA remains committed to providing opportunities for women in the sport of poker."
Cheri Dokken, poker director at the Commerce Casino says, "We will continue to host ladies events without the 'only'. Our upcoming event will register any men who desire to play. Our legal department tells me it's a go!" Thanks to Cheri's devotion to providing a great event and a terrific atmosphere in which the ladies can compete. She's a tireless advocate for the women's poker market.
Lupe Soto, LIPSTour and Women's Poker Hall of Fame founder said, "The LIPSTour is a ladies tour, but we have on occasion registered men for the events. We've always been aware of discrimination laws. We will make changes in any advertisements we participate in and make sure there isn't an 'only' wording included." On the flip side of this issue Lupe added, "We have many men who are members of the new Women's Poker Hall of Fame — Mike Sexton, Matt Savage and Max Shapiro to name a few. We are not a women's-only organization and have never advertised that way."
I suspect there won't be many men who desire to be known as The California Ladies Champion or The LIPSTour Grand Champion. When it happens that a man does win a ladies event, I can see it now… Joe bellies up to the bar and his friends say, 'What's up, man?'... and he brags, 'I'm the Queen of Queens Champion!'... and a giant beer can falls from the sky!