Indian Tribes Begin Campaigns Against Operator-Backed Mobile Sports Betting Initiative

Written By Matthew Kredell on February 9, 2022 - Last Updated on August 31, 2022
Tribes campaign against CA sports betting initiative

California Indian tribes are ramping up efforts to oppose the online sports betting initiative from sportsbook operators.

San Manuel, Rincon and Wilton Rancheria announced the formation of a committee to oppose the operator initiative. The tribes are serious in their opposition. Funding starts with $25 million and a stated initial campaign budget of $100 million.

“In 2000, Californians voted to give sovereign Indian nations the exclusive right to operate gaming in California,” Roger Salazar, a spokesperson for the committee, said in a press release. “The online sports betting measure sponsored by out-of-state corporations violates that promise of sovereignty, which has worked exceptionally well now for over two decades to the benefit of the tribes and California.”

The Californians for Tribal Sovereignty and Safe Gaming committee will run separately from the one through which the three tribes are funding signature gathering on their own online sports betting initiative.

The announcement of the committee came just days after the tribal coalition backing the already qualified brick-and-mortar sports betting initiative placed guest commentary against the operator initiative in CalMatters.

While the two tribal coalitions back separate initiatives, they unite in their opposition to the measure proposed by operators.

“Tribes statewide are united in opposition to the (operator) measure and working to defeat it,” said Kathy Fairbanks, spokesperson for the qualified tribal sports betting initiative.

Tribes take different paths in opposing sports betting operators

In the CalMatters piece, Barona tribal chairman Raymond Welch and Graton Rancheria tribal chairman Greg Sarris focus on the difference in offering California sports betting at tribal casinos or statewide on mobile devices.

“Their measure would authorize the largest expansion of gambling in state history – allowing virtually anyone, anywhere, anytime to gamble,” the tribal chairmen write.

They go on to cite a National Council on Problem Gambling report that online sports bettors are up to five times more likely to develop problem gambling than other types of gamblers. And a journal article that mobile gambling is especially attractive to youth.

According to the tribal chairmen:

“This online operators’ measure lacks critical safeguards to prevent underage gambling, and there is no sure-proof way to prevent kids from placing bets online using false identification or their parents’ information”

San Manuel leads an initiative that includes online sports betting for tribes. However, it’s more likely to qualify for the 2024 ballot than 2022.

Its campaign focuses less on issues with the online aspect of sports betting. Rather, the no campaign centers around the proposal coming from out-of-state operators.

“The out-of-state corporations will export money from California and have a track record of questionable operating practices,” said Rob Stutzman, also a spokesperson for the committee.

San Manuel’s initiative requires in-person registration for online sports betting accounts. The tribes argue that in-person age verification is critical to ensure safe online sports betting.

Commentary author previously supported online initiative

Sarris originally was a petitioner on the San Manuel tribal online sports betting initiative. He withdrew as a proponent of the measure in a letter to the California Attorney General included when the initiative was amended.

Even before San Manuel joined the effort, his signature is one of three from tribal chairmen on a letter to other tribal leaders. The letter explained why they wanted to preserve the option of a tribally-controlled, IGRA-based statewide mobile measure.

Sports betting operator response to tribal no campaigns

The operator initiative also is funded to at least $100 million, setting the stage for a large battle to come leading up to the November election.

Nathan Click, spokesman for the operator initiative, responded to the tribal statements in an email to PlayCA:

“We aren’t going to be deterred by these false political attacks. Our measure is proving to be incredibly popular with Californians. Ours will be the only measure on the ballot that will guarantee hundreds of millions annually to help solve homelessness and support mental health care.”

The seven operators backing the initiative, including DraftKings, FanDuel and BetMGM Sportsbook, are among the most popular sportsbooks in the nation. Those three each operate regulated online sportsbooks without any major issues in at least 14 states.

The operators previously tried to work with the brick-and-mortar tribal coalition to get both of their initiatives passed. The operator initiative requires that all online sportsbooks partner with an Indian tribe.

Click dismissed the tribal arguments against the operators offering critical safeguards to prevent problem gambling and underage gambling.

“Nearly half of the country has now authorized online sports betting – proving it can be safely regulated and generate significant revenue to help states solve big problems. Our measure also provides millions in revenue for California Tribes — both to gaming and non-gaming Tribes alike.”

Photo by AP / Doug Benc
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