The latest push to launch legal California sports betting might be over before it really gets started. The California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA) voted unanimously to oppose two proposed California sports betting initiatives.
The vote, which was announced Thursday, comes after supporters of the initiatives pitched their plan to CNIGA’s executive committee. The proposals aim to rid the state of illegal operators and give the tribes complete control of the California sports betting market.
However, California tribes had nothing to do with putting the initiatives together and the majority of them do not feel this recent effort is being done in good faith.
Why California tribes aren’t backing these proposals
CNIGA represents 52 California tribes, including the most influential and successful gaming tribes in the state. The vote to oppose these new California sports betting initiatives was 18-0.
The proposals would give sports betting exclusivity to California tribes and keep non-tribal operators out of the state. However, supporters of the initiatives filed plans for a tribal gaming proposal without consulting the California tribes themselves.
In a statement released Thursday, CNIGA Chairman James Silva said sports betting in California must start with the tribes and supporters of the initiatives did not handle this new effort the right way.
“The entire effort surrounding these initiatives was handled abhorrently by the initiative sponsors,” Silva said. “It is hard not to be offended when listening to these individuals speak. This is another example of outside influences trying to divide and conquer Indian tribes. We will not let history repeat itself.”
Siva said now that the tribes have put up a clear opposition, they are calling for the initiative proponents to drop their efforts like they said they would if the tribes were against their plans.
“California tribes have been successfully engaged in the gaming market for more than four decades. This didn’t happen by mistake, nor without careful consideration on the effects to our members and our surrounding communities, ” Silva said. “Tribal Leaders are the experts, and we will decide what is best for our people.”
Odds stacked against sports betting being on California 2024 ballot
Without the support of the largest California tribal gaming association, these sports betting initiatives likely have little to no chance of appearing on the 2024 general election ballot. To appear on the Nov. 5 ballot, the initiatives need 874,641 valid signatures before early March 2024.
Timing was already a significant obstacle for the proposals and there is a belief that voter fatigue on the issue was not taken into account. 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 to spend more than $400 million.
Despite CNIGA’s vote, initiative proponents may still be hopping on gaining support from many of California’s other federally recognized Indian tribes. CNIGA represents 52 tribes. But there are 57 others that the group could reach out to for support.
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.