Two California Tribes Break Ranks, Support Online Sports Betting Initiative

Written By Matthew Kredell on June 29, 2022 - Last Updated on August 2, 2022
California Tribes Break Ranks Sports Betting

Online sportsbook operators finally have some tribal support for their California sports betting initiative.

The operator campaign announced Wednesday endorsements from the Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians and Middletown Rancheria of Pomo Indians.

Chairmen of each tribe praised the measure as an historic way for small, disadvantaged tribes to strengthen their economic self-reliance.

“The Solutions Act would be life-changing for our people,” said Big Valley Chairman Philip Gomez. “For too long, rural and economically disadvantaged tribes like ours have struggled to provide for our people. This measure would provide us with economic opportunities to fortify our Tribe’s future for generations to come.”

The Big Valley Pomos own the Konocti Vista Casino Resort, Marina & RV Park on the shores of Clear Lake in Lakeport. The Middletown Pomos own the Twin Pine Casino and Hotel in Middletown. Both are in Northern California about a two-hour drive or more outside the population centers of the Bay Area.

Some tribal support big for operator campaign

From the beginning, operators crafted their California sports betting initiative to make nice with the biggest player in California gaming, the Indian tribes.

They required that any online platform wishing to participate in the California market must partner with a California tribe. Each tribe can also choose to operate its own sports betting platform without a partner at a substantially lower license cost.

The operators also stipulated that 15% of online sports betting revenue goes to tribes that do not participate in the online sports betting marketplace.

And operators included language specifying that their online sports betting initiative wasn’t in conflict with the tribal in-person initiative.

However, two tribal coalitions, one made up of the tribes backing a tribal in-person sports betting initiative that will be on the November ballot and one of tribes supporting an online sports betting initiative aiming to make the 2024 election, have been attacking the operator initiative with advertisements for months.

“Don’t believe those false attacks,” said Middletown Rancheria Chairman Jose “Moke” Simon. “The Solutions Act protects tribal sovereignty and will allow every tribe — not just those with big casinos close to big cities — a chance to directly benefit from online sports betting in California. The measure puts tribes firmly in control of online sports betting in California.”

First video advertisements for online sports betting initiative

Simon speaks in two new advertisements made by Californians for Solutions to Homelessness and Mental Health Support. They are the first commercials made by the campaign, which gained eligibility for the November ballot earlier this week.

The first ad is titled “Oleyumi,” which Simon says is what his tribe calls California. Here’s a transcript of the ad:

“My tribe has lived on this land for 12,000 years. We call it Oleyumi, you call it California. Our land, our culture, our people, once expansive, now whittled down to a small community.

Only one proposition supports California tribes like ours while providing hundreds of millions in yearly funding to finally address homelessness in California. Vote yes on The Solutions Act, tax online sports betting and protect tribal sovereignty, and help Californians that are hurting the most.”

The second ad, titled “false attacks,” responds to the ads from the other tribal campaigns. Here’s the transcript:

“Don’t believe the false attacks on the Solutions Act. Tribal leaders support the Solutions Act because it provides hundreds of millions every year for permanent solutions to homelessness, mental health and addiction in California. The act supports every California tribe, including financially disadvantaged tribes that don’t own big casinos.

By taxing and regulating online sports betting for adults 21 and over, we can protect tribal sovereignty and finally do something about homelessness in California. Vote yes on the Solutions Act.”

Nathan Click, spokesman for the operator initiative campaign, says Californians will see these commercials “everywhere in the coming weeks.”

Response from other tribal coalitions

Kathy Fairbanks, spokesperson for the Coalition for Safe, Responsible Gaming that backs the in-person tribal measure, pointed out that many more tribes oppose the operator initiative.

“More than 60 tribes (and growing) are opposed to the Corporate Online Gambling Proposition, along with the main trade associations for tribes (CNIGA and TASIN). Tribes oppose because it is a direct attack on Indian gaming and tribal self-sufficiency. Under their measure, the corporate operators take total control of the market — sending 90% of revenues out of state — while hurting tribes and exposing millions of kids to online gambling.”

California Nations Indian Gaming Association and Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations represent dozens of tribes, including non-gaming tribes.

The Coalition for Safe, Responsible Gaming, also announced Wednesday that Dolores Huerta came out against the operator initiative. Huerta, 92, made a huge impact as a labor leader and civil rights activist in California. She co-founded what is now United Farm Workers along with Cesar Chavez.

“The Corporate Online Gambling Proposition is misguided and dangerous,” Huerta said. “This measure is a direct attack on Indian self-sufficiency that would also expose youth and the disadvantaged to the perils of online gambling. We are no strangers to corporations seeing California as nothing more than a piggy bank to extract wealth at the expense of the disadvantaged. That’s why I urge all Californians to oppose this deceptive online gambling scheme.”

Two tribes is much better than none

Last year, executives from DraftKings and FanDuel, two of the sportsbook operators behind the initiative, made their pitch for tribal support at Pechanga Resort Casino.

Pechanga leads the coalition that filed the in-person Tribal Sports Wagering Act.

Although the operators got a cold response from tribes then and since, Jonathan Edson, senior vice president of business development at FanDuel, was undeterred. His words proved prophetic.

“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.”

There are 109 federally recognized Indian tribes in California, including 63 gaming tribes operating 66 tribal casinos. Only about 25 tribes back the in-person tribal sports wagering initiative and three tribes the online tribal initiative.

That left a lot of tribes on the fence. Now the operator initiative has two to show that not all tribes oppose their method of providing online sports wagering in California.

“By voting yes in November on the Solutions Act, Californians will not only help address statewide homelessness but will also be specifically helping our tribe address our own homelessness and provide adequate housing for all our tribal members,” Gomez said. “Their vote can help us build a recreation center we have always dreamed of for our community and help educate our kids.”

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