California lawmakers are starting to take positions on California sports betting propositions.
The Joint Governmental Organization Committee held an informational hearing Wednesday on Propositions 26 and 27.
Committee chairs Sen. Bill Dodd and Asm. Miguel Santiago tried to make the committee hearing an unbiased presentation of the two propositions.
Meanwhile, leaders of each legislative chamber spoke out against Prop. 27, the California online sports betting initiative backed by sportsbook operators.
Assembly and Senate leaders oppose Prop. 27
Leading up to the hearing, a tribal campaign indicated that top Democrats and Republicans in each chamber oppose Prop. 27.
- Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins
- Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon
- Senate Minority Leader Scott Wilk
- Assembly Minority Leader James Gallagher
Californians for Tribal Sovereignty and Safe Gaming called it a bipartisan agreement to protect tribal sovereignty.
Atkins made the following statement:
“California’s tribes have proven to be safe and responsible operators of gaming in California, providing benefits to their communities and to their members. I stand with tribal governments in opposition to Prop 27 and support their right to operate gaming facilities on their lands.”
“I am concerned that Prop 27 sends sports betting revenues to out-of-state corporations who wrote the measure to maximize their profits. Californians should vote no on 27 and support California tribes over out-of-state corporations.
Proponent testimony for Prop. 27
Not all California tribes are against Prop. 27. Middletown Rancheria of Pomo Indians Chairman Jose “Moke” Simon led the testimony in favor of Prop. 27 at the hearing.
Simon spoke of Prop. 27 as an opportunity to grow for the limited-gaming tribe in rural Lake County.
“Our expansion opportunities as we move forward into an e-commerce age is with mobile sports betting,” Simon said. “… Mobile sports betting is coming. You’ve already heard that there’s something coming in ’24 if it doesn’t pass now.”
Although only Simon spoke at the hearing, Middletown Rancheria is one of three California tribes that support Prop. 27.
Simon addressed the impression that he is standing apart from other tribes in supporting Prop. 27.
“There’s no division. This is just an opportunity for one tribe to make a decision, a sovereign decision, on how they’re going to move their people forward. And I’ll continue to do that. It’s not always easy to do the right thing for your people but when your people ask you to act, then you go to war or you give your life if that’s what’s needed. … I know I sat here alone at this table, but there are other tribes that will be coming out that look at this opportunity as a way to move forward as we do it together.”
Opponent testimony against Prop. 27
Sara Dutschke led the opposition testimony to Prop. 27. She chairs the Ione Band of Miwok Indians, a non-gaming tribe located about 40 miles east of Sacramento.
Until recently, her people were a tribe without land. Using the annual $1.1 million shared from tribal gaming revenue, the band was able to embark on a formal federal process to restore a modest 220-acre parcel of land on which it plans to build a gaming facility in the future.
“The out-of-state operators have written Prop. 27 with the illusion of partnering with tribes,” Dutschke said. “But the reality is that only a handful of tribes will have partnerships with these online gaming operators, leaving more than 100 tribes, including my own, out. And those few tribes that do choose to partner with online corporations must give up their sovereign rights to do so.”
Dutschke contended that a vote for Prop. 27 supports money going out of state. While tribes support communities in the state.
“The proponents of Prop. 27 could not be any more different than Indian tribes. They are corporate interests concerned with profits and not people. While they withdraw their profits from California back to New York, Boston, Vegas, Europe, other jurisdictions, California Indian tribes will never leave this state. And neither will the benefits that tribal gaming brings.”
Battle of homeless service organizations
Each side of the Prop. 27 argument also featured a representative from an organization working on improving the homeless situation in California.
Jennifer Friend serves as CEO of Project Hope Alliance. The nonprofit implements trauma-informed care principles to improve the emotional, psychological and social well-being, academic success and overall health of students from kindergarten to college experiencing homelessness.
Prop. 27 earmarks 85% of state tax revenue from online sports betting toward homelessness and mental health programs. Friend attested that funding from Prop. 27 will allow her organization to embed more case managers onto public school campuses.
“Without sustained funding streams, it is difficult for organizations like mine to solve long-term problems and scale because the funding is not guaranteed year after year. California needs a permanent source of funding to end homelessness and help support mental health solutions. Permanent funding like that created by Prop. 27 is a big deal for organizations like mine and the communities that we serve. It allows for us to be proactive, preventative and, most of all, ensure that our kids experiencing homelessness today are not adults experiencing homelessness tomorrow.”
But Kendra Lewis from Sacramento Housing Alliance countered that addressing the housing and homelessness crisis in California is the top priority of her nonprofit. And she’s voting no on Prop. 27.
“The bottom line is online gaming is not the solution to homelessness in California,” Lewis said. “Proponents are using this very real humanitarian crisis that is in every single county and city in our state to sell this very deceptive measure. It wouldn’t be the first time that out-of-state corporations used a crisis to make billions.”
Proponent testimony for Prop. 26
Anthony Roberts, tribal chair of Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, called Prop. 26 a logical extension of tribal gaming to provide long-term economic self-sufficiency for California tribes.
Prop 26 would allow tribes to offer sports betting, craps and roulette at tribal casinos. This is contingent on them reworking tribal compacts with the state.
But it draws opposition from California card rooms for language added on to allow tribal interests to directly sue card rooms.
“We take great offense to the deceptive opposition campaign being waged by the card-room casinos and their financial backers,” Roberts said. “They are calling us special interests, disparaging us as having monopolies, minimizing the importance of tribal sovereignty and claiming we don’t benefit the state of California. But I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. These are the same divisive attacks our people have endured for generations.”
Roberts claimed that the measure wouldn’t put a single legal gambling operation out of business.
“We have included a responsible enforcement provision to ensure the state’s gaming laws are being followed,” Roberts said. “Only the card rooms at risk of enforcement under provisions of Prop. 26 are those found to be repeat violators of California’s gaming laws. It’s hard to argue with the need to enforce gaming laws.”
Santa Rosa Band of Cahuilla Indians chair Lovina Saul Redner added that Prop. 26 would nearly double funding provided to small and non-gaming tribes annually.
Prop. 27 doesn’t add money to the Indian Gaming Revenue Share Trust Fund that supports limited- and non-gaming tribes. The 15% revenue share in Prop. 27 goes to all tribes that don’t participate in online sports wagering.
Opponent testimony against Prop. 26
City representatives led the opposition to Prop. 26. They cited the impact the enforcement provision could have on cities that rely on card room tax revenue.
Shavon Moore-Cage, city employee for Hawaiian Gardens and member of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said:
“We’re opposing Prop 26 because of a poison pill that is hidden in the middle of it. It attacks local card rooms and threatens over 32,000 jobs and $500 million in local tax revenue from minority communities that these card rooms serve. And what that translates to is $5.6 billion in economic output. If these local card rooms are closed, it is detrimental to the quality of life in minority communities that these local card rooms serve.”
Moore-Cage explained that union members are not anti-Native American tribes. They want tribes to remain secure in their sovereignty. And they are fine with them getting sports betting while the card rooms don’t. She called attention to another tribal sports betting measure that is verifying signatures for possible inclusion on the 2024 ballot.
“That is a better measure,” Moore-Cage said. “It doesn’t have that poison pill that could possible close our card rooms.”
Juan Garza, director of California Cities for Self-Reliance JPA, echoed that his organization certainly isn’t opposed to anyone’s self-sufficiency.
“It’s the only proposition in November that will hurt local communities,” Garza said. “We just want the ability to be self-sufficient.”
Committee members express concerns
Some lawmakers, including Chairman Dodd, expressed concerns with Prop. 26 allowing tribes to file civil suits against card rooms.
Asm. James Ramos questioned the disbursement of money toward homelessness in Prop. 27. It follows state funding for the Homeless, Housing, Assistance and Prevention (HHAP) Program grant funding. HHAP only gives money to the largest 13 of California’s 482 cities.
If the legislature changed the distribution of HHAP, it also would change where Prop. 27 money goes.
Sen. Steve Glazer questioned if 10% was a fair tax rate compared to what sports betting operators pay in other states.
But the committee hearing really was informational. Lawmakers can do little at this point other than watch the most expensive initiative campaign battle in the history of American politics play out.