California’s biggest Indian tribes weighed in Thursday on a pair of sports betting initiative proposals and are calling on a commercial group led by businessmen Kasey Thompson and Reeve Collins to abandon their idea.
“Now that the sponsors have heard directly from tribes that their efforts are not supported, we call on them to drop the initiatives as they have pledged to do if tribes were to oppose them,” California Nations Indian Gaming Association President James Siva said in a press release. “Our opposition could not be more clear and is irrevocable.”
The proposals, filed in late October, would make a hub-and-spoke digital sports betting model legal in California and would give the tribes a monopoly on legal wagering in the biggest U.S. state. While the tribes may eventually embrace the concept, Siva said in the press release that they are “offended” at the commercial group’s methods and are tired of “outside influences trying to divide and conquer Indian tribes.”
In 2022, California’s tribes spent about $250 million to kill a statewide mobile betting initiative brought forth by a group of seven commercial operators, including the three biggest nationally, BetMGM, DraftKings, and FanDuel. The tribes, by their own admission, continue to talk with commercial operators about what legal California sports betting will look like and would welcome commercial operators as management service providers, but not as branded operators.
“If sports betting does come to California,” Siva said during an episode of the tribal webinar The New Normal, hosted by Pechanga.net founder Victor Rocha, “it won’t be operator to operator. It will be a very different relationship.”
Wagering sites would have tribal brands
The latest proposal would allow for tribes to own their own brands, and the authors say they will “wash” illegal wagering companies and ultimately hand those assets to the tribes to own free and clear. They also say they would pay for the initiative campaign, which they expect would cost about $25 million.
But the approach the group used — talking with one tribal leader who eventually backed out, and then filing the proposals anyway — has angered Indian Country, which is fiercely protective of its monopoly on gaming.
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“California tribes have been successfully engaged in the gaming market for more than four decades,” Siva said. “This didn’t happen by mistake, nor without careful consideration on the effects to our members and our surrounding communities. Tribal Leaders are the experts, and we will decide what is best for our people.”
The moronic attempt at California sports betting is deader today than yesterday. These guys are a special kind of stupid. The kind you read about in books. They have no tribal support yet they’re saying they will move forward. They will be curb stomped. pic.twitter.com/GT3C1PVxK4
— Victor Rocha (@VictorRocha1) November 16, 2023
CNIGA is a tribal gaming group comprised of 52 of the state’s 100-plus tribes, including the biggest ones, the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, and the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. All four played a key role in killing the 2022 commercial initiative. Siva chairs the smaller executive committee, which voted unanimously to oppose the latest initiatives. Thompson and his group presented their idea to the committee in a digital gathering.
The initiative proposals were filed Oct. 27, opening a one-month public comment period and a five-week window to amend the proposals. The public comment period closes Nov. 27, and amendments are due by early December. From there, Thompson and his group could begin collecting the 874,641 signatures needed to get on the November 2024 ballot.
Proponents have a maximum of 180 days from when the title and summary are issued to gather signatures and file petitions for verification with county officials. Any proposed initiative for the 2024 ballot must qualify for the ballot 131 days before the Nov. 5 election, which means a cutoff date of June 27.
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