Tribal Battle Brews As Sports Betting Initiatives Set Up To Conflict

Written By Matthew Kredell on November 12, 2021 - Last Updated on November 16, 2021

Two California tribal-backed sports betting initiatives aren’t starting on friendly terms.

When four tribes filed a mobile sports wagering initiative last week, it begged the question of if the new measure could coexist with the already qualified retail-only tribal initiative.

A letter sent out to tribes introducing the initiative a week early left the possibility open.

However, language added to the initiative as filed makes it clear that the tribal initiatives conflict. If both are the only sports betting measures to pass, the one with the most votes becomes law.

This sets up a possible battle between two of the most successful gaming tribes in California. The Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians leads the qualified initiative, with the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians leading the new proposal.

Initiative language on conflicting measures

The initiative includes the following passage on conflicting measures:

“In the event that this comprehensive initiative measure and another initiative measure or measures authorizing any of the following: roulette, games played with dice, in-person retail sports wagering, or online sports wagering … shall appear on the same statewide election ballot, the other initiative measure or measures shall be deemed in conflict with this measure.”

The first three activities in the list refer to the qualified tribal initiative.

Petitioners set forth what happens if their initiative receives a greater number of votes than the others. In that case, their initiative prevails in its entirety and the others are null and void.

Two more sports betting initiatives have been filed in California. The language goes on to specifically name the CA cardroom and operator initiatives as competing.

Also, if their initiative passes but a competing initiative gets more votes, theirs will take effect if the winning measure is later held invalid.

Ironically, the online-only operator initiative is the only proposal that sets itself as complementary to the qualified tribal initiative. If each passed, they could both take effect.

More details of latest tribal sports betting initiative

Additional key language of the second tribal initiative includes:

  • Requires all sports betting websites and mobile apps to bear only the brand of the tribe, not the operator. Advertising may only occur under the tribe’s name.
  • Requires players register for an online sports wagering account in person at a tribal gaming facility.
  • To have statewide online sports betting under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, it deems all sports wagers to be “offered, originated, accepted, and otherwise take place exclusively where received at the location of the servers or other devices … at a tribal gaming facility located on Indian lands.”
  • The initiative includes a template compact amendment for tribes to participate in sports betting. Tribes can choose to pursue their own negotiations with the state.
  • The template compact amendment provides 10% of adjusted sports betting revenue to the state to combat homelessness and mental illness. The operator initiative earmarks sports betting revenue to the same two issues.
  • Sets aside 10% of adjusted sports wagering revenue for non-gaming and limited-gaming tribes.
  • Permits wagering on professionalcollege and amateur athletic events.
  • Prohibits wagering on high school sports.
  • Allows tribes that don’t wish to offer statewide mobile sports betting to contract with other tribes to provide marketing services and/or account registration services through a hub-and-spoke model without the need for a compact amendment.
  • No licensing fees for tribes to participate in sports betting.

Next steps for California tribes

In addition to San Manuel, petitioners for the new initiative include the tribal chairmen of the Rincon Band of Luiseno IndiansFederated Indians of Graton Rancheria and Wilton Rancheria.

Tribes still seem to be feeling each other out. When asked about the new initiative presenting itself as conflicting, Jacob Mejia, a Pechanga representative and spokesman for the coalition behind the qualified initiative, didn’t take the opportunity to attack the competition. His measured response:

“The tribal coalition is in support of the already-qualified retail sports wagering measure.  It is the most viable and expeditious path toward legalizing sports wagering in California while protecting tribal rights and balancing voter fears about online gaming.”

Having two tribal sports wagering initiatives on the ballot likely sets up the scenario that neither passes. Some smaller tribes could still decide the operator-led initiative gives them the best opportunity to move up in market share. And that would make it three tribal-backed measures.

In the letter, petitioners for the new initiative indicated that they had not yet decided whether to collect signatures. They’ll have two more months to decide, and another 28 days to make changes to their initiative (perhaps at the request of other tribes).

The initiatives are sure to be a hot topic at the National Indian Gaming Association conference at Pechanga Resort Casino, which begins this Monday.

Photo by Shutterstock
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Matthew Kredell

Matthew has covered efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling since 2007. His reporting on the legalization of sports betting began in 2010 with an article for Playboy Magazine on how the NFL was pushing US money overseas by fighting the expansion of regulated sports betting. A USC journalism alum, Matt started his career as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News and has written on a variety of topics for Playboy, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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