Tribal Chairman Warns Any Sports Betting Comers Of Doomsday Scenario

Posted By Matthew Kredell on July 23, 2021

Pechanga tribal chairman Mark Macarro had a stern message for anyone thinking of filing a competing sports betting initiative for the 2022 ballot.

Macarro addressed the topic of sports betting operators pursuing a mobile-only sports betting initiative during a panel at the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) convention in Las Vegas this week.

“If that happens and both measures end up losing, that means the status quo is preserved and frankly a lot of tribes would also be ok with that,” Macarro said. “No sports betting at all is good enough for the next few years.”

Macarro is one of the petitioners who filed a retail-only sports betting initiative that qualified for the November 2022 election. The measure would amend the state constitution to allow for in-person sports betting at tribal casinos and horse racetracks.

Tribes will blow up own initiative to take down another

Macarro acknowledged that he’s heard the rumors of the industry trying to put another sports betting measure on the ballot. He made it clear that the tribes won’t be friendly to another effort.

To the contrary, he warned of the tribes taking a scorched-earth tactic to take down both initiatives, even if that means tribal casinos have to go without adding sports betting, craps and roulette.

“So those interests that would think to put a measure out there really need to take that into consideration. Because I don’t know a case of competing measures put on the ballot and both win. The likelihood is both lose. So if the other side, whoever they may be, launches a competing measure, it’s going to be the Hindenburg.”

Competing initiatives could come in next few months

Ballot proposition filing season is fast approaching.

Once proponents file their proposed ballot initiative with the attorney general and receive circulating language, they have 180 days to collect signatures.

Signatures must be in to counties by April to give them time to check them. Therefore, September is a good target date for filing.

Petitioners could file as late as December, but that just means a shorter timeframe and higher expense to gather signatures quickly. Given uncertainties of the pandemic, proponents likely would want as much time as possible.

Who would back a CA mobile sports betting initiative?

Over two panel discussions at the NIGA convention, tribal representatives made it clear that they expect to see another sports betting initiative on the 2022 ballot.

“Even now we’re hearing rumors and whispers of a potential competing bill that would address the mobile issue that’s intentionally not included in the tribal measure,” said James Siva, chairperson of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association. “And just with the time that’s given to the other side, I think that there’s a very good chance we see another competing bill.”

Here are the candidates to pursue another sports betting initiative. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. It could be all three working together.

Cardrooms

There are more cardrooms in California than there are tribal casinos. Not only does the tribal initiative lock cardrooms out of sports betting, but it includes language to allow tribes to go directly after cardrooms with lawsuits over the way they skirt tribal exclusivity on house-banked games to offer blackjack.

Cardrooms led the effort for a legislative ballot measure on sports betting last year, but that wasn’t successful.

So while cardrooms will certainly be involved with any competing sports betting initiative, they’ll have a tough time going up against the tribes on their own. They’re likely better off letting one of the other two options take the lead, if possible.

Sports betting operators

DraftKings and FanDuel are funding a mobile sports betting initiative in Florida. And they’re taking on the powerful Seminole Tribe in the process, so they’re not afraid to go against tribal interests.

Could that be a precursor for a California filing? Definitely. Last month, FanDuel contributed $10,000 to the California Democratic Party.

However, there are differences in the landscape between Florida and California. In Florida, the Seminoles are set up to control sports betting. The sports betting operators would have to enter the market on the tribe’s terms, accepting less of the pie than they would in other states (except perhaps New York).

There’s also the possibility that the mobile sports betting portion of the Seminole compact gets thrown out in court. That could leave an opening for the initiative to fill a void.

In California, tribes are eventually going to want mobile sports betting. And with 63 gaming tribes in the state, there’s plenty of opportunity for the top operators to work out a favorable deal when that time comes. It just depends if they want to wait.

Sports teams

This is the opponent tribes don’t want to see in a ballot campaign. There’s 18 top-level professional sports teams in California. If they’re telling their fan bases to vote for an initiative, that’s a lot of people.

But most, if not all, of these sports teams have existing sponsorship arrangements with California tribes.

There’s been a nationwide movement this year with sports teams and facilities looking to directly participate in sports betting. In neighboring Arizona, tribes agreed to a compact in which both they and professional sports entities each get 10 online sports betting licenses.

But if sports teams were thinking that maybe they could back a mobile sports betting initiative as complementary to the tribes’ retail-only measure, avoiding confrontation, Macarro’s warning tells them otherwise.

State legislature

After last year’s legislative attempt went down in flames, it seems unlikely that the legislature will put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2022.

Assemblyman Adam Gray was willing to try to push through gaming bills against tribal desires. But those efforts never proved successful, and he’s out as chair of the committee that handles gaming. New chair Jim Frazier has a better relationship with the tribes.

Passing a constitutional amendment takes a two-thirds vote. That number can’t be reached with opposition from either the tribes or the cardrooms.

The one possible role for a legislative referendum to play is if there are multiple initiatives headed to the ballot. Perhaps the stakeholders would want to avoid a costly campaign battle by reaching a compromise through the legislature.

A sports betting legislative referendum could pass as late as June 2022 and make the November ballot.

Photo by AP / Murray Becker
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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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