Operators backing an online sports betting initiative haven’t been welcomed with open arms by California Native American tribes. But they aren’t giving up.
Representatives of DraftKings Sportsbook and FanDuel participated in a panel Monday at the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) conference to discuss their California sports betting initiative. The conference took place at Pechanga Resort Casino.
Jonathan Edson and Jeremy Elbaum, respectively the senior vice presidents of business development at FanDuel and DraftKings, answered questions from NIGA conference chairman Victor Rocha.
“We accepted the invitation because we wanted to convey our respect for California tribal nations and to simply lay out what was in our initiative,” said Nathan Click, spokesman for the initiative campaign. “We look forward to continuing our conversations with all stakeholders in this space.”
Educating tribes on operator intentions
The operators offer to partner with tribes. In their initiative, they can only offer online sports betting in California if partnered with tribes.
Tribal nations often are untrusting of commercial enterprises coming in and saying how they can help them.
“Over time, it’s a process to get people to understand why we did it the way we did it, who we’ve spoken to and the buy-in that we have from those groups, and why it makes sense,” Elbaum said. “We’ll eventually, hopefully, get people to come around to understand that it does make sense.”
Edson explained why the operators wanted to come and speak to tribal representatives about their initiative.
“Why we’re so appreciative for the opportunity to speak today is a lot of it is an educational process. It’s easy to say what we’re trying to do is take away gaming from the tribes when we’re doing exactly the opp. It’s easy to say that the way we’ve set this up could force tribes to relinquish sovereignty. Exactly the opposite is true. And so to the extent we can bring those messages, which after listening we understand are important for the tribes to hear, that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Walking hand-in-hand to the finish line
Prior to the operator panel, Pechanga Tribal Chairman Mark Macarro, qualified tribal initiative spokesman Jacob Mejia and CNIGA chairman James Siva spoke about the brick-and-mortar tribal sports wagering initiative.
They spoke about moving forward with their initiative, the only California proposal already qualified for the November 2022 ballot.
“This ballot initiative is advocated by tribal leaders who understand sovereignty,” Macarro said.
“We have a vested interest in protecting the brick and mortars that we have. This is why we pursued this option.”
The operators spoke in favor of the qualified tribal initiative as well.
“Obviously, the tribal initiative, the retail one, we think is great,” Elbaum said. “We think it makes sense.”
Of the four proposed California sports betting initiatives, including a California cardroom-backed sports betting measure, the qualified tribal measure and operator initiative are the only two presented as complementary.
“We view our initiative as complementary to the existing tribal bricks and mortar initiative,” Edson said. “So as ours moves forward, theirs will move forward as well. And so you’ll retain the ability for the other things, including the new forms of gaming that also are authorized under that initiative.”
Tribes playing hard to get with sports betting operators
It’s no coincidence that the operators accepted an invitation to appear at Pechanga, which is leading the qualified tribal initiative.
But Pechanga has not shown any willingness to work with the operators to move both initiatives forward. It’s worth noting that, even though they participated in the panel right before, Macarro and Mejia did not stick around for the operator presentation.
However, they also did not dismiss or shut the door on working with the operator initiative during their panel.
Macarro said Pechanga is focused on growing the tribal coalition behind the brick-and-mortar initiative. He added that there are 24 tribes in support.
“To formally build a coalition where a tribe will be willing to put its name on campaign material, we are moving forward with those efforts to solidify that support. Look for the coalition size to grow over the next handful of months as we roll into the early part of next year.”
Little discussion of second tribal sports betting initiative
During the tribal panel, there was little talk of the most recent tribal initiative.
Mejia remarked that all four petitioners were part of the original initiative’s coalition. They are San Manuel, Rincon, Graton Rancheria and Wilton Rancheria.
This tribal initiative tries to limit operator influence by requiring that California sports betting apps offer only the tribe’s brand.
Language in the proposal deems the qualified tribal initiative as conflicting. So they can’t pass together. However, Mejia noted that petitioners have until Dec. 12 to change the newest initiative.
A mobile sports betting measure filed by tribes was a blow to the operator initiative. However, Edson noted that doesn’t mean the operator initiative won’t garner tribal support.
“While there is a mobile initiative that has been put forth by a group of tribes, there are dozens of more tribes in California than those who have signed up for that initiative,” Edson said. “And so there are plenty of people to have conversations with and try to educate them as to what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.”