Tribes & Commercial Operators Unite Against CA Sports Betting Initiative

Written By C.J. Pierre on January 12, 2024 - Last Updated on January 23, 2024
A picture of a handshake with logos of DraftKings and a tribal organization for a story about the new alliance between the two to oppose the new sports betting initiative in CA.

In a strange twist, a coalition of major commercial sports betting operators is teaming up with California Indian tribes to oppose a pair of California sports betting proposals.

DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM and Fanatics are the four sportsbook operators comprising Sports Betting Alliance. The alliance officially announced their opposition to new CA sports betting initiatives. The tribes were already staunchly against them and announced their dismay with the proposals last November.

Two ballot initiatives were filed with the state’s attorney-general in October 2023. They would give tribes exclusive retail and online California sports betting rights.

The signature-gathering effort to get the initiatives on the November ballot was set to begin last weekend. However, this new opposition from the SBA could hinder the efforts.

Sports betting operators siding with California tribes

Authors of the ballot initiatives are seeking financial support for signature gathering from sports betting operators. However, SBA spokesperson Nathan Click says the organization will not provide funding for the measures.

“We recently learned that the authors of two sports wagering initiatives in California are trying to find financial support for signature gathering from sports betting operators,” Click told Legal Sports Report. “In the interest of clarity, and consistent with our previously stated opposition to these measures, we can commit that SBA won’t be funding or otherwise supporting either of these sports wagering initiatives.”

Click provided three reasons for the SBA’s opposition:

  1. Without significant and widespread tribal support, this initiative will fail and set back productive conversations for several years.
  2. This initiative is constructed to prevent the market from reaching anything close to its potential to the detriment of all stakeholders — commercial operators, Californians, gaming and RSTF tribes — while enabling the unregulated illegal market to continue to thrive.
  3. The original premise of building a business based on customers acquired illegally through offshore operations falls significantly short of the regulatory standards to which our membership adheres.

Tribes and commercial operators are an unlikely coalition

The ancient proverb “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” holds true in this scenario. In 2022, FanDuel and DraftKings were battling against the tribes to control a possible sports betting industry.

The two operators provided most of the funding for Prop 27, a ballot initiative that would’ve allowed commercial operators to operate online sportsbooks in California. On the other hand, the tribes funded Prop 26, an initiative that would’ve allowed for in-person sports betting at California tribal casinos and horse tracks.

Both parties combined to spend hundreds of millions of dollars fighting for the other side’s proposal to fail. Both sides succeeded in that sense, as California voters overwhelmingly defeated both proposals.

But in this case, the tribes weren’t happy they weren’t part of the initiative’s creation. And the operators don’t want to get shut out of what could be America’s largest sports betting market. Thus, an unlikely alliance was born.

The California Nations Indian Gaming Association unanimously voted to oppose the latest initiatives. CNIGA represents 52 tribal nations in California, including the largest gaming tribes in the state. However, four tribes support the 2024 initiative, including three listed as CNIGA members on the association’s website.

California sports betting initiative proponents still moving forward

Kasey Thompson, Reeve Collins and Ryan Tyler Walz of Eagle 1 Acquisition Co. backed the initiative. They have stated that they want to give California tribes exclusive rights to operate online and in-person sports betting and get illegal gambling operations out of the state.

Thompson released a statement responding to the SBA’s move.

“That is natural for to come out against as we are the most tribal initiative ever that puts 100% ownership and control in tribal hands. I have not asked any of those companies for a nickel,” said Thompson. “There is no mention of anything inappropriate in the bill. I think they do not see majority public tribal support but would get behind a mobile bill like this if they did.”

Last month, 28 gaming tribes representing 99% of the money spent opposing Prop 27 wrote a letter to Thompson and the Eagle 1 group asking them to stop pushing this new sports betting proposal.

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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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