Kasey Thompson, one of the sponsors of the latest California sports betting initiative proposals, told Sports Handle Sunday that he’s received tribal amendments that will be incorporated into his group’s proposals by the Dec. 1. deadline.
Thompson filed a pair of proposals Oct. 27 that would allow for legal, statewide digital wagering with the tribes in charge. The proposals would be on the November 2024 ballot.
“The tribes have been very diligent about sending some [amendments] over and we’re trying to incorporate all of those,” Thompson said Sunday night.
Thompson started Pala Interactive, the commercial gaming arm of the Pala Band of Mission Indians that was sold to Boyd Gaming last year. He said that he will not move forward with his proposals unless he has a minimum of 56 tribes on board. California has 109 tribes, and more than half of them run the state’s 60-plus casinos.
“The path forward is simple,” he said. “I committed from the beginning to not move forward without majority tribal support. And I stand by that.”
California is considered the golden egg of digital sports betting, and ultimately, online casinos. Every major commercial operator wants entree into the biggest state in the U.S., but making a deal with the state’s tribes has proved elusive.
Rift in Indian Country revealed in 2022
The latest proposals have been met with fierce opposition from some of the state’s biggest gaming tribes, including the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians and the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, as they were not involved in developing the proposals. Those tribes and 16 others insistent on retaining control of legal gambling in the state voted not to support the proposals during a California Nations Indian Gaming Association special meeting last week. But Thompson remains optimistic, telling Sports Handle that he’s spoken with many other tribes.
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“Our opposition could not be more clear and is irrevocable.”— California Nations Indian Gaming Association President James SivaIt’s not looking great at the moment for the California sports betting initiative … Jill Dorson reports on the latest news:https://t.co/hxo4vnuNZT
— Sports Handle (@sports_handle) November 17, 2023
A key question is what will happen in Indian Country if at least 56 tribes — no matter their size — lend support to Thompson’s proposals. Thompson said his group would move forward with a majority, but the possibility exists that that kind of support could fracture the unity that Indian County seeks. Tribes in California have long said they are stronger when united and have consistently worked to find solutions that benefit all tribes. But given the diversity in size, location, and goals of the tribes, what appeals to one tribe may not work for another.
In 2021, when a group of commercial operators put forth a proposal for statewide mobile gaming, three small tribes backed the operators. That proposal was soundly defeated in November 2022, but it revealed a fissure that Indian Country has been working to mend.
During the process, the consortium of operators had discussions with the tribes and ultimately included many tribal amendments in their initiative, but the majority of tribes still opposed it, spending approximately $250 million to kill it.
Tribes could ultimately own technology
Thompson says he is offering things the commercial operators didn’t. Those include a chance for at least some tribes to wholly own the technology behind wagering platforms, and an offer from his company, Eagle 1, to spend the $25 million needed to gather signatures to get an initiative onto the ballot in addition to other funding.
“Eagle 1 will bear the entire cost of getting the proposition on the ballot and passed,” Thompson said. “There will be no cost to the tribes. This includes the signature campaign and public vote, which will cost hundreds of millions of dollars.”
California voters have resoundingly rejected two propositions that would have legalized sports betting.
Prop 27 was the most expensive ballot measure in state history.@owenpoindexter’s story ⤵️https://t.co/HSeraYWF9K
— Front Office Sports (@FOS) November 10, 2022
The initiatives are open for public comment until Nov. 27, and amendments must be filed by Dec. 1. If Thompson and his group follow the norm, the amendments will be filed on Dec. 1 or very close to it.
The bones of Thompson’s key initiative proposal come from a tribal-led effort in 2021-22 that was backed initially by the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, the same group that put up more than $100 million to kill the commercial effort. When it became clear that commercial operators were moving forward without tribal support, San Manuel pivoted away from its own proposal to band with other tribes to keep commercial operators out.
Thompson took that proposal and made it his own, which could potentially make it difficult for San Manuel and other wealthy, well-known tribes to oppose it. Should the tribes loudly oppose Thompson’s proposal but return with a similar idea of their own in 2026, how will they convince voters to ignore their opposition in 2024?
Apology for original ‘missteps’
While the current proposals came as a surprise to many, Thompson previously said that he and his partners had been working on the idea for the last 18 months. The hope was that they would file the proposals with tribal support, but after Pala Chairman Robert Smith stepped away, Thompson’s group filed anyway. The “delivery” of the idea, as Thompson calls it, has caused great consternation in Indian Country. But Thompson suggests it is time for the tribes to look past how the proposal came about and consider how it will benefit them.
“As tribes are finding out, the delivery was accidental, it wasn’t supposed to be like that,” Thompson said. “We acknowledge our process was not orchestrated as well as it should have been. However, we have been working with the tribes for the last 18 months and had to move forward quickly to protect the signature-gathering time. We apologize to the tribes for our missteps and are working diligently to get this initiative to a place that everyone can get behind.”
Thompson’s proposal would essentially follow the blueprint of the “cleansing” of PokerStars, which converted that company from an illegal operator in the U.S. to a legal one. It would also allow such well-known names as BetMGM, DraftKings, Fanatics Sportsbook, FanDuel, and PENN Entertainment to power tribal platforms as management service providers.
The proposals would require that platforms have tribal branding rather than commercial branding. It appears it would be possible, for example, to have branding similar to that used by the Rose Bowl, which has maintained its brand integrity by calling its bowl game “The Rose Bowl presented by Prudential.”
From Thompson’s perspective, the initiative proposals benefit everyone — the tribes get control not only of digital wagering but in some cases will own their own platforms, the operators will get access to the biggest market in the U.S., and Eagle 1 will foot the bill while making also making a buck.
“While it may appear that our proposal is too good to be true,” Thompson said. “it is poised to be the most tribal forward bill in history by allowing each tribe to choose their own destiny.”
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