Tribes And Commercial Operators Ally To Bring Sports Betting To California

Written By Cheryl Coward on May 14, 2024
Tribes and sports betting operators aligning interests to bring legal betting to CA

After failed attempts to legalize sports betting in 2022, former foes in the battle over who would control the industry in California are gradually becoming allies. At the recent SBC Summit North America in New Jersey, industry experts and tribal leaders discussed this evolution.

Most notably, Frank Sizemore, who left the world of tribal gaming to work for FanDuel, provided insight into why operators now realize that they have no chance of entering the California market without the express consent of the state’s over 100 tribes.

Sizemore, who is now FanDuel’s vice president of strategic partnerships, spoke on a panel at the convention called “California Dreaming — Is There a Second Shot at 26 and 27?” Other panel participants included Andrew Alejandre, tribal chairman of the Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians, a Northern California tribe. Jason Rosenberg, the CEO and founder of American iGaming Solutions, moderated the panel.

The panel discussed why the two 2022 California sports betting initiatives failed and whether there is hope for passing sports wagering legislation in the future.

Switching Sides and Building Bridges

In 2022, commercial operators including FanDuel, DraftKings, and BetMGM spent millions on a campaign promoting a ballot measure to bring online sports betting to the state. An opposing measure backed by tribes would legalize retail sports wagering only at tribal casinos and racetracks. The propositions bombed at the ballot box, as voters were turned off by the negative campaigning from both sides.

At the time, Sizemore worked for one of the biggest backers of the tribal-sponsored proposition, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. Fast-forward two years and he is on the other side of the aisle, and the two rivals are now in truce mode. However, the tribes hold the upper hand.

“I’m trying to repair our reputation in California,” Sizemore said during the panel about the acrimonious battle between the operators and tribes. “Everybody probably knows the background. But also, more broadly, in Indian country, we just want to prove that we can be good long-term partners for tribes.”

No Tribal Support, No Sports Betting

One of the foremost issues that dooms efforts by out-of-state operators to get sports betting initiatives off the ground in the Golden State is the potential for loss of tribal sovereignty. Over the past several decades, tribal casinos have built the gambling industry in the state. Last month, FanDuel CEO Amy Howe reiterated this at the Indian Gaming Tradeshow & Convention in Anaheim, saying:

“At the end of the day, if wagering is going to be done legally in California, it’s going to be done with and through the 100-plus tribes there. For a quarter of a century, the tribes have done a phenomenal job of stewarding the Class III gaming licenses.”

Howe, who characterized operator efforts in 2022 as a “spectacular fail,” contends FanDuel and others are more enlightened now.

“So, obviously for us, it was a big learning experience,” she said. “It’s critical for us to do this together and not against one another.”

At the SBC Summit, Alejandre reiterated this point.

“We have an obligation to our tribal membership to provide resources and opportunities, to protect our membership,” Alejandro said. “Sovereignty is one of the most important things we have, and we’re going to do everything we can to protect that. And when someone comes in and tries to set up shop, that’s not going to happen. Tribes are going to be there. We’re going to step up, as we did, and protect ourselves.”

With brutal frankness, Sizemore brought the point home, saying, “It’s abundantly clear that any legalization goes through the tribes and what that framework looks like will be dictated by the tribes.”

No Sports Betting in CA Until at Least 2026

While there is no exact timeline for getting another sports betting proposition on the ballot, it’s too late for a 2024 effort. Retail sports betting could emerge as an option for 2026, according to Indian Gaming Association Conference Chair Victor Rocha. By his estimates, mobile sports betting would come at least two years later.

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Cheryl Coward

Cheryl Coward is a contributor for PlayCA with a background in sports journalism. She started her career as a news reporter in Washington, DC. She’s a die-hard women’s basketball fanatic and founded the website as a result of that passion. She has extensive experience covering gambling and sports betting in California, including coverage of the Prop 26 vs. Prop 27 election battle.

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