Tribal Coalitions In California Speak Out Against Sportsbook Operator Initiative

Written By Matthew Kredell on October 29, 2021

Native American tribes in California are no longer taking a wait-and-see approach to the online sports betting initiative backed by sportsbook operators.

The California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA) and Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations (TASIN) issued a press release coming out against the operator initiative. Predictably, they also oppose the sports wagering initiative backed by card room interests.

Collectively, CNIGA and TASIN represent 43 California Indian tribes.

“These deceptive measures were written by and for the sole financial benefit of their corporate sponsors and funders,” said Chairman Anthony Roberts of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation. “These measures would be bad for California and bad for tribes. We are prepared to wage a vigorous and well-funded campaign to educate the voters and ensure the measures are defeated.”

California tribes don’t see operator initiative as complementary

The initiative backed by seven of the largest sports betting operators presents itself as being complementary to the tribal proposal. The tribal measure already qualified for the November 2022 ballot.

Language ensures that both the operator proposal and the brick-and-mortar-based tribal initiative can pass. And all California mobile sports betting operators have to partner with Indian tribes to enter the Golden State market. Additionally, 15% of tax revenue goes to those tribes who chose not to participate.

Tribes also have the option of setting up their own, independent online sports betting operation at one-tenth the cost of operators.

But the tribal coalitions call it a competing initiative. The press release says it would give these commercial operators “near-total control of the online sports wagering market in California, undermining tribal rights and self-sufficiency.”

Operators even tried to revise the initiative to address tribal sovereignty concerns. But it appears as if those efforts won’t be enough.

Tribes say CA sports betting initiatives not a solution to homelessness

The operator campaign focuses on putting sports betting revenues toward supporting services for the homeless and mental health. And the card room initiative gives the money to cities to assist with education, homelessness, affordable housing and mental health.

The tribes contend that neither measure provides any guarantee that funds will actually go toward fixing the homelessness problem.

“Don’t be fooled,” CNIGA chairman James Siva said. “These measures are not a fix to homelessness, but rather a massive expansion of gaming that will directly undercut tribal sovereignty and self-sufficiency.”

Expect a battle on the California ballot

More than 100 Indian tribes operate 66 tribal casinos in California. The 43 tribes coming out in opposition doesn’t necessarily mean there won’t be some tribes who partner with operators.

However, it does foretell a storm brewing if tribal and operator initiatives clash on the November 2022 ballot.

The seven sports betting operators already have contributed $100 million to fund their campaign. So it will be an expensive fight if the coalitions of tribes want to wage a war for voters.

“We remain committed to responsible sports wagering at tribal casinos that have a proven track record of operating safe, regulated gaming in this state,” said Chairman Greg Sarris of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria. “We are prepared to make our case to the voters, just as we have in previous elections, to oppose these deceptive and risky propositions.”

Nathan Click, spokesperson for the operator initiative, countered:

“California’s homelessness crisis demands action. Our measure will provide hundreds of millions in solutions each year to solve homelessness, as well as real revenue for California Tribal nations, by allowing regulated entities to offer safe, responsible sports betting online. Both California tribes who choose to participate in the online sports betting market and those who do not will benefit from this initiative. It has won bipartisan support from advocates and leaders on the frontlines of fighting homelessness because it provides real solutions to California’s most pressing challenge.”

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Matthew Kredell

Matthew has covered efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling since 2007. His 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. A USC journalism alum, Matt started his career as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News and has written on a variety of topics for Playboy, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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