Four tribes are on board with the proposed 2024 California sports betting initiative.
According to a PlayUSA report, the Cahuilla Band of Indians, Karuk Tribe, Blue Lake Rancheria, and Chicken Ranch Rancheria all support the latest initiative that has drawn public, emphatic criticism from much of the California tribal community.
All four of these tribal nations currently operate casinos and are, thus, considered gaming tribes. None of the four were among the three tribes who publicly supported Prop 27, the online sports betting prop that was soundly defeated in the 2022 election thanks to the financial and political arsenal levied against it by California tribes.
Here’s a closer look.
What’s in the latest California sports betting initiative?
In early December, advocates for California sports betting made some tweaks to their original proposal.
There are a number of adjustments, such as limiting the in-person sportsbook sign-up requirement for the first two years. Other changes include a five-year sunset on promotional credits and declaring a start date no earlier than July 1, 2025.
However, the biggest amendment entails giving tribes more money from revenue.
“This is now the best California sports betting initiative ever because of the way it benefits all tribes,” he said.
Specifically, the amended initiative now increases the operator revenue percentage to the Revenue Sharing Trust Fund (RSTF) tribe to 25%. The original percentage sat at 15%.
This change is key because it would give more back to the tribes that don’t make as much money from legal gambling as others. There are 72 RSTF tribes in California, and they receive $1.1 million each year — a mark that has not changed since Class II gaming started more than 20 years ago. Meanwhile, tribal gaming across the state continues to grow.
“This is a life-changing amount for many rural California tribes,” Thompson told PlayUSA. “We’re talking about tribal reservations that often face third-world conditions. This initiative gives them a shot to make real money from gaming, potetially 15 times what they are making now.”
What the tribes in favor are saying
PlayUSA spoke with outgoing Cahuilla Chairman Daniel Salgado. He’s a major proponent of this initiative.
“I support the initiative in its amended form and I’m going to look to get other tribes in California, and as many Californians as possible, to support it,” he said. “Californians need to know that two-thirds of California tribes are struggling. We’re not the Indians they see on billboards. We’re out in the trees, we’re out in the hills, we’re out in the desert, we’re out in the rural areas that aren’t commonly visited and we’re out there trying to survive. This initiative finally gives us a meaningful revenue stream to not only survive but thrive.”
Online sports betting would increase dollars in the RSTF. It would not affect current tribal gaming revenues, but instead provide much-needed support.
“Think about running a whole government and providing all the essential services needed by members of your community on $1.1 million,” Salgado told PlayUSA. “You can’t, it’s impossible. But $15 million is a step in the right direction. And getting tribes a good steady flow of income becomes more than just the $15 million. We can then leverage that to get conventional lending and have a greater impact on our reservations today, providing much-needed essential utilities that we’ve lived so long without.”
Karuk Tribe chairman Russell “Buster” Attebery told PlayUSA that awareness and education are needed when it comes to spreading this message.
Echoing Salgado’s sentiments, Attebery stressed the message that two-thirds of California tribes live in isolated areas and struggle to meet basic needs. This amended initiative, in his eyes, will benefit the state as a whole.
“It is a proven and documented fact that the tribes, by exercising sovereignty, can build an economy that makes communites around them stronger, which in turn makes California stronger,” Attebery told PlayUSA.
More tribes could support the sports betting initiative, too
When it comes down to it, tribal leaders don’t feel as though they were represented properly. Originally, the California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA) unanimously voted to oppose the amended initiative. The CNIGA represents 52 tribal nations in California, including the largest gaming tribes in the state.
Interestingly, of the four tribes supporting the 2024 initiative, only the Karuk Tribe isn’t a member of the CNIGA. The Cahuilla Band of Indians, Blue Lake Rancheria, and Chicken Ranch Rancheria are all listed as members on the CNIGA website.
“That vote didn’t represent our opinion on the initiative, which we think benefits Indian Country,” Salgado told PlayUSA. “CNIGA is primarily made up of gaming tribes and represents only a small portion of RSTF tribes. That’s why I’m putting together an RSTF association to voice our opinions.”
When Thompson and his team first proposed their California sports betting initiative, it was met with plenty of skepticism. One reason was that Thompson was viewed as an outsider.
According to Salgado, that shouldn’t matter.
“If it’s something you can truly support, who cares about the face or who put it out there into circulation. … The idea that it has to be borne by a tribe and authored by a tribe and led by a tribe isn’t true nor our reality,” Salgado said. “It just has to align with our principles and provide a meaningful benefit to the poor and impoverished tribal communitites.”
Right now, we know that these four tribes are on board with this latest change. But this could end up being somewhat of a domino effect.
“These four tribes supoort the initiatives, and there’s more like us out there,” Salgado told PlayUSA. “You’ll hear more about them as we move forward.”