Online sports betting Prop 27 made a lot of promises to help smaller California Indian tribes. It turned out to be true, even if the ballot measure is likely facing defeat in next month’s election.
The vicious campaign battle over sports betting between sportsbook operators and tribes helped smaller tribes get a seat at the table for tribal discussions on the future of sports betting in California.
“We were speaking on this issue back in 2019 but couldn’t get much traction with other tribal leaders,” Sara Dutschke, chairperson of the non-gaming Ione Band of Miwok Indians, told PlayCA at the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas. “So one of the great things that has come out of this whole process is that all tribes have come together and started talking about it. I very much appreciate the open dialogue that’s been happening over the past few months.”
Last month, the California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA) and Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations (TASIN) hosted an All Tribes meeting in Sacramento. More than 160 tribal leaders from around California came together to discuss the future of sports wagering.
“I was really excited to go to the All Tribes meeting in Sacramento that was hosted by TASIN and CNIGA with an open invitation to all tribes, including tribes like mine, to really sit at the table as equals and talk on the issue”
Smaller tribes felt neglected early in sports betting talks
Tribal leaders of Pechanga, Yocha Dehe, Barona and Agua Caliente filed what became Prop 26 in November of 2019. However, many non- and limited-gaming tribes weren’t included in the discussion.
“I think it was a bit of a surprise to see that, while they did get a large number of tribes to support them, it wasn’t the overwhelming support they and other tribes expected,” said James Siva, chairman of CNIGA. “I think that was because of the lack of outreach early on.”
The initiative also didn’t include any revenue share for such tribes. There was a valid reason. The proposal leaves financial terms for tribal sports betting to future compacts with the state.
But if the ballot measure had made the 2020 general election or 2021 gubernatorial recall election as planned, they would have gone forward without any pledges of revenue share.
“Partly where we got off track in the beginning is some tribes felt like they weren’t listened to, that their voices weren’t heard,” Siva said. “That they weren’t as respected as other tribes. So I think that’s going to be the first step down that path is making sure that we have outreach amongst the tribal leaders — big tribes, small tribes, gaming tribes, non-gaming tribes – everybody can have a seat at the table because it’s the future of all of our communities that we’re protecting.”
Prop 27 campaign made larger tribes listen
The Prop 27 campaign began by securing support from three limited-gaming tribes located in rural areas. One of two competing initiatives also pledged 15% of the 10% tax revenue to tribes that didn’t participate in sports betting.
Showing members of the three tribes, the campaign ran a commercial titled “support small tribes.”
The commercial starts:
“For years, California’s non-gaming tribes have been left in the dust. Wealthy tribes with big casinos make billions while small tribes struggle in poverty.”
After establishing that Prop 27 is a game-changer, the narrator continues:
“So who’s attacking Prop 27? Wealthy casino tribes who want all the money for themselves. Support small tribes.”
The threat of more tribes supporting Prop 27 and this narrative of a tribal rift was a reminder to larger gaming tribes of the importance of maintaining a unified front with less fortunate tribes.
“Everyone is really busy and has stuff going on at an individual tribal level, and I think everyone starts getting in their own bubble and not realizing the extent by which the limited- or non-gaming tribes are struggling or have very different situations than larger tribes do. But I really think these two propositions have had the whole of Indian Country in California refocus themselves and have that tribe-to-tribe communication improve.”
Smaller tribes comfortable as California sports betting talks continue
Limited- and non-gaming tribes currently receive $1.1 million annually from larger gaming tribes through the Revenue Sharing Trust Fund.
Supporters of Prop 26 eventually wrote a letter to RSTF tribes pledging at least 15% of sports betting revenue to the Fund. San Manuel ran its tribal online sports betting initiative by smaller tribes before filing and also earmarked 15% of revenue.
It appears Prop 26 won’t pass. And the San Manuel proposal didn’t make the ballot. But Dutschke said she has assurances the contribution would carry over to any future sports betting proposal supported by tribes.
“The strong message that I got from tribal leaders of some of the bigger gaming tribes in the state is that revenue sharing would continue under propositions like 26 should we see that on the ballot in a couple of years. … I’m glad that tribes in California are having that conversation on continued revenue sharing and am very pleased to hear the commitment of some of the larger tribes to continue that, and their keen understanding of what that means to us.”
As California tribes try to figure out how to handle sports betting, all tribes have seats at the table. And Prop 27 had something to do with that.
“We’re all here in gaming to provide services for our members, to make sure that our kids have a better future than the previous generation,” Siva said. “It’s about providing a future for our communities. And every California tribe faces that same reality. So I think that’s how we start down this path. We listen, we discuss, and we figure out what we’re going to do. But we know we’re going to do it together.”