CNIGA Chairman Says Road To CA Sports Betting Starts With The Tribes

Written By C.J. Pierre on November 10, 2023 - Last Updated on January 23, 2024
A picture of a road ending with the logo of a California tribal group for a story about how CA tribal leaders say they must be involved in any sports betting initiative.

The California sports betting ballot initiatives are back for the 2024 election cycle. However, there is a belief that the push is already over before it even started.

Two individuals formerly associated with Pala Interactive submitted two sports betting initiatives last week. The proposals aim to rid the state of illegal operators and give California tribes complete control of the California sports betting market.

The problem is that the California tribes don’t appear to be on board with this plan. California Nations Indian Gaming Association Chairman James Siva says the tribes must support any proposal legalizing sports betting in the Golden State.

CNIGA Chairman Siva says this is not the time for a new sports betting proposal

Reeve Collins and Ryan Tyler Walz filed the measures. The two co-founded Pala Interactive, but the company was sold to Boyd Gaming in 2022 and the Pala Band of Mission Indians has a large stake in it.

One is titled the Tribal Gaming Protection Act, and it would allow California’s governor to negotiate agreements with tribes to offer retail and online sports betting.

The other is titled the Sports Wagering Regulation and Tribal Gaming Protection Act. It would provide the framework for the first measure. The two proposals are similar to 2022’s Prop 26, the tribal-focused initiative on the ballot in 2022.

However, CNIGA Chairman James Siva says the timing of this new push for sports betting in the state is all wrong. He recently spoke on The New Normal podcast, hosted by Victor Rocha and Jason Giles, and says there isn’t enough time for the tribes to give proper input on these proposals.

“The timing of this puts tribes in a difficult position,” said Siva. “I haven’t heard or seen any tribe stand up publicly and support this. I think they (Pala Interactive) are leaning on their previous relationships, but I haven’t heard any tribe say, “I like this.”

To appear on the Nov. 5 ballot, the initiatives need 874,641 valid signatures over the next four months. Meaning petitioners don’t have the usual 180 days to gather those signatures.

However, Walz and Collins chose to move forward despite the Pala Band of Mission Indians not supporting the effort. Siva says it is the same mistake corporate entities behind Prop 27 made when trying to legalize online California sportsbooks in 2022.

“Any new form of Class III gaming starts with the tribes and I don’t see that position changing at all,” said Siva. If you want this to have any chance, you have to find a way to get tribes into the room. Hear out their proposals. I have no intention to do that work for them.”

Siva says tribes are willing to work with outside groups to bring legal sports betting to California. However, the process needs to be done the right way.

“If you come in and you disrespect tribes, if you disrespect tribal leaders, if you come in with this kind of air of you know what’s best for Indian country, you’re done before you even get started,” said Siva. “And I think that’s the approach they’ve taken, that we know what’s best for you little Indians, conjuring up all the negative, derogatory statements that we’ve dealt with.

Is there still hope to get the tribes on board?

It appears that Walz and Collins hope to work with the tribes to develop acceptable language for an initiative by Dec. 1, the deadline to amend the filings. In an Oct. 28 tweet, Rocha said they reached out to tribal leaders asking them not to talk to the press until the two had a chance to talk with tribal leadership.

Tribal leaders are willing to hear out the planning. However, a lot must happen quickly before they support a sports betting initiative.

“At some point in the very near future, they’re going to have to get a large number of tribes in the same room so they can deliver this proposal to all of them. Falling short of that, I don’t know how they’re going to get enough momentum behind this to make it viable,” said Siva. “If tribes are going to be supportive of this, it’s going to take a lot of tribal input and edits, and the clock is already ticking.”

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.

One of the biggest questions regarding these new initiatives is where will the money come from to support this effort. In 2022, tribes spent around $240 million purely in opposition to Prop 27. So, any legislation the tribes are not behind will likely be met with a similar amount of pushback. Walz and Collins said they won’t move forward with the two initiatives without tribal support.

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C.J. Pierre

C.J. Pierre is a Lead Writer at PlayCA. He has been covering news and sports for over a decade for both online and TV broadcasts. He was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN and is an alum of Minnesota State University: Moorhead. He recently dove into tribal casino, sports betting and online gambling news. He also covered the launch of sports betting in Arizona. C.J. has experience as a reporter and videographer and has covered high school, college and professional sports throughout his career, most notably following Arizona Cardinals, Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Vikings and North Dakota State University football.

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