Just like that, California tribes have delivered the knockout blow to the latest effort to legalize California sports betting. Proponents say they will not continue their efforts to put the issue on the November 2024 ballot.
Kasey Thompson, one of the ballot initiative’s backers, said California’s Native American tribes vehemently opposed the proposal. As a result, Thompson and the other backers are pulling the plug on the efforts to legalize California sports betting.
“This initiative was supposed to be for the tribes but is only causing division. That was never my intent,” Thompson told PlayUSA. “I see now the needed unity is not coming, and so I’m standing good to my word and not moving forward. I’m pulling it in full.”
The initiative planned to give the tribes full control of a potential sports betting industry. Nevertheless, tribes in the Golden State didn’t support the initiative. California Nations Indian Gaming Association chairman James Siva was thrilled to see the group withdraw it.
“We are pleased that in the face of widespread tribal opposition, the backers of two initiatives have kept their word and withdrawn what we could only regard as a cynical attempt to legalize sports wagering and online betting in California,” Siva said in a statement. These initiatives attempted to use tribes’ good names to cleanse illegal off-shore, online gambling corporations with an appalling track record of malfeasance. Let this failure also be a warning to others that seek to dubiously enter the California gaming market. Using tribes for your own gain will get you nowhere.”
CA sports betting initiative never really had a chance
Reeve Collins, Ryan Tyler Walz and Thompson, of Eagle 1 Acquisition Co., filed a pair of initiatives last October. They were called the “Tribal Gaming Protection Act” and “The Sports Wagering Regulation and Tribal Gaming Protection Act.”
The plan was to give the tribes exclusive rights to operate online and in-person sports betting. Additionally, it aimed at getting illegal gambling operations out of the state.
The initiative needed 874,641 valid signatures before early March 2024 to appear on the November 5 ballot.
However, the group also said they wouldn’t continue the initiative without tribal support. That was something they never really had. The California Nations Indian Gaming Association unanimously voted to oppose the latest initiatives. CNIGA represents 52 tribal nations in California, including the largest gaming tribes in the state.
In the end, Thompson says his group ended their pursuit of legal California sports betting because they didn’t have support from the tribes. Something that seemed obvious the moment this whole thing started.
Thompson didn’t get petitions printed or a single signature. He also didn’t set up a ballot measure committee, which is needed to begin a campaign and hire a signature gathering firm.
“We tried everything until the very end, but it looks like there would be money from the three big tribes against it, making it impossible to pass in a public election,” Thompson told PlayUSA. “The only thing I would create from here is a civil war.”
Timing was already a significant obstacle for the proposal and there is a belief that voter fatigue on the issue was not considered. California voters overwhelmingly rejected similar sports betting initiatives in 2022, even with millions of dollars spent on advertising. The fight between tribal-backed Prop 26 and operator-backed Prop 27 was the most expensive battle in California election history. The two sides combined spent more than $400 million.
What does the future for California sports betting look like?
Californians will not have a sports betting initiative to consider on the ballot in 2024 unless legislators push a ballot referendum. However, that is unlikely.
On a recent webcast with Indian Gaming Association conference chair and Pechanga member Victor Rocha, CNIGA Chairman Siva said a successful California sports betting proposal would have to come from tribes. He says it was possible in 2026 but more likely in 2028.
DraftKings’ CEO Jason Robins has also made similar comments. In a March 2023 interview, Robins said he didn’t see legal California sports betting as “a 2024 thing.” He projected that major sports wagering operators and California tribes would be in a stalemate for at least another election cycle or two.
Meanwhile, Siva also indicated that he favored starting sports betting in-person at California tribal casinos and taking an incremental approach to online sports betting. It’s unclear how much he wants outside operators to be involved in that process.
At shy of 40 million residents, California is by far the most populous state in the country. Experts projected ahead of the 2022 election that a mature California sports betting market could generate as much as $3.2 billion in annual revenue.