Although two tribal campaigns have spent more than $200 million opposing online sports betting Prop 27, one prominent Southern California tribe has stayed out of the fray.
The Morongo Band of Mission Indians, which has a popular casino located on the way from Los Angeles to Palm Springs, hasn’t put any money toward defeating Prop 27. And although Morongo initially endorsed in-person tribal sports betting Prop 26, it didn’t join that campaign either.
Fellow powerful Southern California tribes such as Pechanga and San Manuel are taking on out-of-state corporate sportsbooks in the battle for California sports betting. However, Morongo has stayed on the sidelines.
“For us in Morongo, the memories and scars from iPoker ultimately led us to take a sideline position and watch this play out,” Morongo Vice Chairman James Siva told PlayCA.
Morongo previously fought for online poker
Morongo’s absence becomes more conspicuous when considering the role the tribe played in a push for online poker in California.
Morongo and San Manuel joined PokerStars in a battle that pitted them against Pechanga and Agua Caliente. The fight became contentious and stoked tribal tensions before legislation eventually failed.
Many tribes took it as a warning to avoid a similar divide over California sports betting.
Siva explained how that experience made them cautious about the sports betting battle in 2022.
“We caught a lot of flak for trying to be one of the leaders in iPoker. Tribal leadership didn’t have the appetite to go at it again and be in the middle of these tribes vs tribes conflicts, especially with polling showing it wasn’t going anywhere. Having been involved in this battle for online poker and coming out much worse from the wear, we didn’t feel like it was right to jump into the middle of the fray.”
What does Morongo’s neutrality on Prop 27 mean?
As the online poker episode showed, Morongo has an interest in taking gaming online. And the tribe doesn’t shy away from partnering with the leading commercial operator.
Not taking a position on Prop 27 could be taken as an interest in someday partnering with a sportsbook operator. But Morongo wasn’t supportive of this specific proposal at this time.
“Tribes aren’t necessarily opposed to working with operators,” Siva said. “It’s about how that relationship plays out.”
About 40 California tribes didn’t take a position on Prop 27. But Morongo was the most prominent.
Pechanga Chairman Mark Macarro, while not specifically mentioning Morongo, told PlayCA that he wonders why some tribes stayed neutral.
“There’s so many tribes on the sidelines,” Macarro said. “There’s been a lot of sidebar discussion. Somebody must have these agreements already with FanDuel and DraftKings, and that’s why they’re not hopping in. It’s one of the 800-pound gorillas in the room.”
Siva pointed out that he hasn’t exactly been silent on Prop 27. He’s criticized the proposition on numerous panels in his position as executive director of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association.
“Through my position with CNIGA, I constantly speak out on 27 but our position as a tribe has been one of neutrality,” Siva said. “Although we haven’t come out in opposition, both the chairman and I talk about problems in Prop 27 and the problematic future it can lay out for tribes.”
Expect Morongo to be more active going forward
Prop 26 and Prop 27 are expected to fail miserably in next week’s election.
That makes Morongo look smart to save its money and keep out of the fight. Though other tribes might not agree.
“Other tribes were taking the lead on this, and we let them take leadership while we sat back and watched this time,” Siva said. “It costs time, money and the overall effect it can have to be in the middle of one of these long, drawn-out fights.”
Entering the new year, tribes will meet to discuss the future of online sports betting. And when California voters opt to legalize online sports betting, Morongo figures to be a key player.
“We’ll come back to the table for 2024 and probably take a more active role,” Siva said.