FanDuel Looks To Rebuild Relations With California Tribes 

Written By TJ McBride on September 19, 2023
FanDuel logo on map of CA, where FanDuel is mending relations with gaming tribes

In Florida, there is a push to bring back sports betting through a gaming compact between the government and tribes. If successful, it could create a roadmap for California.

FanDuel is taking steps to be a part of that potential future market.

Recently, the sportsbook has been attempting to repair its relationship with California tribes after a contentious election battle last year.

Whether FanDuel’s efforts to extend an olive branch will pay off in the future is anyone’s guess. Both tribal-backed and major sportsbook-supported sports betting propositions overwhelming failed last November.

Voters had the final say on CA sports betting last election

Relations between tribes and major sportsbooks soured after each decided to create their own referendums to legalize California sports betting. Tribes created Proposition 26 to allow sports betting only in person at tribal casinos and racetracks. It would have also allowed roulette and dice games at tribal casinos in the state.

Major sportsbooks including FanDuel and DraftKings countered with Proposition 27, which would have allowed online sports betting. Even though the two measures did not compete with each other, sides were drawn and millions of dollars were spent to defeat the other’s proposition.

In the end, voters downed both proposals. More than 82% of voters rejected Prop 27, eliminating any chance at a FanDuel California Sportsbook, while 67% were against Prop 26.

The defeats of Prop 26 and Prop 27 were, well, emphatic.

Working together could be a successful path forward

Needless to say, a great deal of animosity was built up between the tribes and sportsbooks leading up to the election.

Now, it seems FanDuel is the first major sportsbook to begin treating the wounds.

James Siva, vice chairman of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, spoke at the Indian Gaming Association Mid-Year Conference. During that talk, Siva said FanDuel has been reaching out to multiple tribes to rebuild relations. He said other sportsbooks have not shown the same willingness to do so.

“FanDuel has been more amenable to reach out to a number of tribes. I’ve heard from a number of tribes that they’ve reached out. I haven’t heard much from DraftKings, whether they’ve reached out.”

Those conversations are a good starting point, but both sides know much more work remains. Tribes in CA realize that a good relationship with national sportsbooks will only help their cause, according to Siva. But, he said, it is taking longer for sportsbooks to realize that tribes are their ticket into a California sports betting market.

“We’ve had some outreach, very much kind of the hat-in-hand meetings where they come in and didn’t outright apologize but were very much, ‘What do we need to do to be able to get to the goal.’”

Siva says sportsbooks must realize their role

Siva said sportsbooks must understand how their relationship would work. It would be more about sportsbooks providing the technology and platform, while the tribes would be the main operator.

“There will be some relationship between them with the industry, but it’s not going to be them at the same operator level as tribes. It’s going to be them providing a service to us like the slot companies, like IGT, Konami, where they come in and are a vendor or service provider.

“That’s the relationship I think we see as tribes with California, and I think the bigger ones are coming to that realization. Not all of them, but some of them.”

FanDuel is one of the sportsbooks that seems to have good awareness of the situation as evidenced by its efforts to build bridges to connect itself to the tribes in California, Siva said.

“I think they realize that California is a lot different than they had anticipated being on the outside. I think they have had a platform and a game plan for them that has worked in other states. And I think they thought it would work here in California.”

It makes sense FanDuel would be doing its best to build connections with California tribes that could allow them into a future sports betting marketplace. With what is happening in Florida, tribal gaming could be the golden ticket into the sports betting market in states that have trouble passing sports betting legislation.

All eyes on Florida after recent court decision

The Seminole Tribe of Florida recently enjoyed a legal battle victory. The US Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia said it will not reopen the case or change its decision that originally allowed the Seminole Tribe to operate a sportsbook in Florida.

Plaintiffs could sue the Seminole Tribe in state courts or take the matter to the US Supreme Court. They have not said what path they’ll take after the court’s decision. For their part, the Seminoles have not said whether they will immediately open an online sportsbook again.

The tribal gaming compact agreed to between the Seminole Tribe and the state of Florida says the tribe can operate online sports wagering so long as all bets are processed on servers that reside on tribal land. This is known as a “hub and spoke” approach. The Appeals Court decision upholds that, setting a precedent that other states and tribes could follow.

There is no guarantee that the gaming compact in Florida will be upheld at the Supreme Court level if that is where it ends up. If it does, however, it makes sense that tribes in California will attempt to use that process to bring sports betting to The Golden State.

FanDuel clearly recognizes this and has begun working to make space for itself.

Even with that victory in Florida, the process of adding sports betting to CA could still take a long time. Siva thinks 2026 is a reasonable goal. Mark Macarro, tribal chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, agrees with that timeline.

“I’m hoping there’s some adults in the rooms at these corporate entities like DraftKings. I doubt it, but I hope so. And the others. And they realize we need to not look at California right now because that would be the smart thing to do.

“Just wait it out. It’s going to be a few years.”

Photo by Shutterstock / Illustration by PlayCA
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TJ McBride

T.J. McBride is a writer and reporter based in Denver. He covers the gaming landscape across multiple states in addition to his main beat covering the NBA's Denver Nuggets. His NBA work can be found at several major media outlets including ESPN, FiveThirtyEight and Bleacher Report.

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