CA Tribal Leader Honored, Named To Industry ‘People To Watch’ List

Written By Hill Kerby on January 11, 2024
A picture of a trophy for a story about a California tribal leader being honored by a gaming publication.

The 22nd annual Global Gaming Business Magazine’s “25 People To Watch” list included one of the most influential people in the California gaming landscape.

California Nations Indian Gaming Association Chairman James Siva was among the 2024 honorees. As CNIGA Chairman, Siva helps protect 52 of the 110 federally recognized California-based tribal nations. Those tribes operate more than half of the casinos in the state and many of the largest.

In California, the tribes have exclusivity over Las Vegas-style casinos. Thus, California tribal casinos are the only legal casinos in the Golden State. Some California card rooms have the word “casino” in their name. However, only tribal properties can operate slot machines and house-backed table games.

California online casino gaming isn’t legal yet. But if the legislature decided to move in that direction, the legal landscape in California would likely give the tribes control over the industry.

Siva is one of three tribal gaming members to make the 2024 list. Jeannie Hovland, Vice Chair of the National Indian Gaming Commission and Greg Sarris, Tribal Chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, are the other two.

Siva has roots in tribal gaming

In addition to being the CNIGA Chairman, Siva serves as the Vice Chairman of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians. His mother served on the Morongo Tribal Council in the 1990s, and now he carries that torch by implementing tribal policies and exploring economic development opportunities for the tribe.

Siva serves as the voice of these tribes’ gaming interests and has played an instrumental role in building and maintaining a positive relationship between tribes, tribal gaming and Californians. This includes garnering increased support for CA sports betting despite voters rejecting a pair of 2022 initiatives in historic fashion.

Expanding to a nationwide focus, Siva serves on the Board of Directors for the American Gaming Association. Additionally, he co-founded the Tribal Leadership Council alongside Justin Barrett and Andrew Alejandre.

The TLC was founded in November 2023 to support tribal sovereignty by creating sustainable leadership and solutions for future generations.

Siva’s pull in the Golden State

When Siva speaks, people listen. He recently did just that, too, voicing opposition toward two new sports betting initiatives that he said were only tribal on the surface.

Siva said the bills’ sponsors did not contact CNIGA or any of its tribes before submitting the initiatives. Unsurprisingly, CNIGA’s executive committee voted 18-0 against the new initiatives. Siva went on record saying that “any new form of Class III gaming starts with the tribes” and added,

“The entire effort surrounding these initiatives was handled abhorrently by the initiative sponsors,” Siva said. “It is hard not to be offended when listening to these individuals speak.  This is another example of outside influences trying to divide and conquer Indian tribes.  We will not let history repeat itself.”

In December, Siva called the initiatives “red flags” and an attempt at dividing and conquering tribes. He called for the sponsors to withdraw the initiatives and issued an even more resounding statement:

“The opposition coming from Indian Country is loud and it is clear,” he said. “Tribes will not be distracted by outside influences making empty promises. Indian Country will stand firm in protecting our sovereign rights and integrity. We call on the proponents to do the honorable thing and withdraw these flawed initiatives.”

In other words, any sports betting initiatives that do not gain Siva’s and CNIGA’s support stand virtually no chance of passing. A mature California sports betting market could generate more than $3 billion annually. The road to those riches goes through Siva.

About the ‘People to watch’ list

GGB’s list includes notable retail and online gambling industry figures. Operators, suppliers, regulators, attorneys, tribal government officials, public officials and academics are all eligible for nomination.

The GGB Editorial Advisory Board chooses the most deserving figures across the industry. Its criteria include nominees’ past accomplishments and their potential to continue impacting gaming.

“The gaming industry is going through a sea change as the land-based and iGaming worlds come together,” said GGB Publisher Roger Gros. “Many of the people honored by their inclusion in the 2024 list are prime participants in that merger. Their vision will shape gaming for many years to come.”

Each year’s list is a one-and-done affair, meaning those who make it cannot be considered again.

The complete 2024 GGB 25 People to Watch list

  • Noah Acres – Principal, Acres Manufacturing
  • Maureen Adams – Executive Vice President of Gaming Operations, Churchill Downs Inc.
  • Kelcey Allison – Global COO, Aruze
  • Brett Abarbanel – Executive Director, UNLV IGI
  • Brian Blake – Vice President, Global Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, IGT
  • Julia Boguslawski – Chief Marketing Officer, AGS
  • Mike Brennan – Chief Product Officer, Bluberi
  • Dona Cassese – Vice President of Marketing, Everi
  • Robbie Cooke – Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Star Entertainment
  • Ed Evans – Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Cordish Gaming Group
  • Shawn Fluharty – President, National Council of Legislators from Gaming States (NCLGS)
  • Katie Gehrke – Marketing and Communications Manager, JCM Global
  • Jeannie Hovland – Vice Chair, NIGC
  • Christopher Justice – President & CEO, Pavilion Payments
  • Danielle Kristensen – Vice President of Technology, Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures / Grand Casinos
  • Kim Barker Lee – Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer, Bally’s Corporation
  • Kara Matthew – COO, BMM Innovation Group
  • Eileen O’Brien – Member, Massachusetts Gaming Commission
  • Tom O’Brien – President, Americas and EMEA, Aristocrat Technologies
  • Niklas Rytterstrom – President, Borgata Hotel Casino
  • Greg Sarris – Tribal Chairman, Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria
  • James Siva – Vice Chairman. Morongo Band of Mission Indians; Chairman, California Nations Indian Gaming Association
  • Jeffrey Soffer – CEO and Chairman, Fontainebleau Development
  • Max Tappeiner – Executive Vice President, Operations, Wynn Resorts
  • Mor Weizer – CEO, Playtech PLC
Photo by PlayCA
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Hill Kerby

Hill Kerby is a proponent of safe, legal betting, and is grateful to be able to contribute to growing the industry. He has a background in poker, sports, and psychology, all of which he incorporates into his writing.

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