California Sports Betting Ad Pits Small Tribes Against Wealthy Tribes, Angers Many

Written By Matthew Kredell on August 2, 2022 - Last Updated on August 17, 2022
California sports betting advertisements

New advertisements for California sports betting measure Proposition 27 call out “wealthy casino tribes” for trying to keep disadvantaged tribes from improving their positions through digital sports gambling.

The ads drew the harshest response yet from a coalition of tribes who oppose Prop 27.

“Shameful, despicable,” said James Siva, chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA), representing 42 Native American tribes. “The out-of-state corporations and their Wall Street investors funding Prop 27 have deceptively tried to convince voters that their measure will help tribes. The truth is now out. More than 50 tribes – including gaming and non-gaming tribes – overwhelmingly oppose Prop 27 because it jeopardizes vital funding tribes use to support education, health care, cultural preservation and public safety for our communities.”

In a press release, the Yes on 27 campaign contended that wealthy tribes with large casinos are trying to undermine the effort and block smaller tribes from benefiting from California sports betting.

Prop 27 framed as supporting small tribes

Two no campaigns backed by large California tribes launched ads before Prop 27 even qualified for the ballot. These ads framed the issue as tribes versus out-of-state corporations.

But since getting some tribal support from three rural tribes in Northern California, Prop 27 supporters have sought to change that narrative.

While the initial ads merely presented Prop 27 as having tribal support, the new ads take a more aggressive stance. Now the message is that large tribes opposing Prop 27 are trying to hold back small tribes.

Here’s a transcription of the main Prop 27 ad, titled “Support Small Tribes“:

“For years, California’s non-gaming Tribes have been left in the dust. Wealthy tribes with big casinos make billions while small Tribes struggle in poverty. Prop 27 is a game changer. 27 taxes and regulates online sports betting to fund permanent solutions to homelessness while helping every tribe in California. So who’s attacking Prop 27? Wealthy casino Tribes who want all the money for themselves. Support small Tribes. Address homelessness. Vote Yes on 27.”

A shorter, 15-second ad pushed to Californians on YouTube simplifies the message as:

“Prop 27 is a game-changer for disadvantaged tribes in California. So who’s attacking prop 27? A powerful coalition of wealthy casino tribes who want all the money for themselves. Stand with small tribes. Vote yes on 27.”

Tribal opponents livid over new California sports betting ad

In November, voters will be asked two ballot questions about legalizing sports gambling in California.

The Coalition for Safe, Responsible Gaming, which supports tribal in-person sports betting Proposition 26 and opposes Prop 27, struck back in a press release saying the ad directly attacks California tribal leaders.

“The out-of-state corporations behind this ad should immediately pull it off the air and apologize to the tribal leaders” said Lynn Valbuena, chairwoman of the Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations (TASIN). “These profit-driven Wall Street corporations have stooped to a new low by minimizing the progress California tribal nations have made through tribal government gaming. The vast majority of tribes are standing together to oppose Prop 27 because it’s deceptive and bad for tribes and California.”

The press release includes one quote from the leader of a limited-gaming tribe.

“It’s shameful to attack tribes that have a proven track record of sharing hundreds of millions with limited and non-gaming tribes like mine,” said Glenn Lodge, chairman of the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe. These out-of-state corporations should stop the divisive and misleading attacks.”

Prop 27 support from smaller tribes limited

In California, larger casino tribes share revenue with limited- and non-gaming tribes. Each limited- and non-gaming tribe gets payments totaling $1.1 million annually from the Indian Gaming Revenue Share Trust Fund.

A limited-gaming tribe operates fewer than 350 gaming devices.

For the 2022-23 fiscal year, the CA Gambling Control Commission projects that 72 tribes will get a total of $79.2 million in payouts.

The operator initiative shares 15% of tax revenue with tribes that don’t participate in CA sports betting.

“Non-gaming tribes have been left behind, and our initiative is the only one that dedicates significant revenue to small and non-gaming tribes,” Yes on 27 spokesman Nathan Click told PlayCA. “Using the LAO estimates, Prop 27 will give roughly $75 million annually to tribes not participating in sports wagering. That [doubles the amount] distributed annually to smaller tribes through the current revenue sharing trust fund.”

No non-gaming tribes support Prop 27, yet some are in the coalition for the no campaign.

All three tribes supporting Prop 27 are limited-gaming tribes receiving revenue-sharing payments. These include the Big Valley and Middletown Rancheria bands of Pomo Indians and the Santa Rosa Rancheria Tachi Yokut.

However, their support of Prop 27 is likely because of their intention to participate in California sports betting. It’s not because they are happy with the revenue sharing for non-participating tribes.

Prop 27 requires all online sportsbook operators participating in the state to partner with a California Indian tribe.

No CA sports betting campaigns financed by large tribes

It’s really no surprise that wealthier gaming tribes finance expensive ballot campaigns.

The Coalition for Safe, Responsible Gaming, which supports tribal in-person sports betting Prop 26 and opposes Prop 27, is funded by six tribes with large casinos: Pechanga, Barona, Agua Caliente, Graton Rancheria, Viejas and Yocha Dehe.

San Manuel, Rincon and Pala fund another no campaign on Prop 27 from Californians for Tribal Sovereignty and Safe Gaming.

Faced with the attack, the Coalition for Safe, Responsible Gaming beefed up its tribal numbers from 25 to 47, including smaller tribes. Additional tribes are part of tribal organizations in the coalition, such as CNIGA and TASIN.

Photo by ShutterStock
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Matthew Kredell

A fifth-generation Californian, Matthew's reporting on the legalization of sports betting began in 2010 with an article for Playboy Magazine on how the NFL was pushing US money overseas by fighting the expansion of regulated sports betting. After graduating from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, Matt started his career as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News. He has written on a variety of topics for Playboy, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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