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California Tribes Slam Proposed Sports Betting Ballot InitiativesThe Garden State is facing yet another uphill task in realizing its regulated sports betting dream. As the state legislators push for the introduction of two new measures, some tribes are already calling out the initiatives as expensive, futile missions.
More than 30 US states and jurisdictions have legalized sports betting, and many more are expected to jump on the bandwagon in the coming months. However, a notable absence in this fast-expanding list is California. While there have been various attempts to legalize sports betting in the Golden State, it has remained on the outside looking in. Most recently, Californians overwhelmingly rejected two propositions on the November 2022 ballot that would have seen legalized sports betting at tribal casinos and online.
That said, some proponents of sports wagering in the state have never given up on their quest to bring legalized sports wagering to the state. This was seen when two proposals were submitted to the Attorney General’s office last week for review. The two proposed constitutional amendments called for expanded gaming initiatives and were presented by Ryan Tyler Walz, who forked out $2,000 for each proposed amendment.
The first proposal would allow the California tribal gaming nations to open a brick-and-mortar sportsbook, offer California wagering apps, and offer roulette along with dice-based table games at their physical casinos. On the other hand, the second constitutional amendment sought to prohibit anyone but a tribal operator from offering sports betting services of any kind within the boundaries of the state.
These new initiatives have, however, been met with lots of opposition, especially from the California tribes, who feel that the state has lingering fatigue that can be attributed to the sports wagering issue. While the lingering proposals have started to take shape ahead of the busy 2024 election cycle, the leaders of these tribes insist that the initiatives are dead on arrival. According to the tribal nations, Californians have already pronounced themselves on the matter.
Tribes Not in Favor of the Betting Ballot Initiatives
Speaking in a recent webinar, tribal leaders unanimously voiced their opposition to the recently proposed betting ballot initiatives. These were James Giles, the executive director of the Indian Gaming Association; Victor Rocha, the chairman of the Indian Gaming Association Conference; and James Silva, the Chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association.
Specifically, James Silva had this to say about the initiative:Quote
“Tribes decided to wait an election cycle and let sports betting move out of the media and out of the voter’s mind, then work our way back into it in future cycles… This throws it right back into the voter’s face, and a lot of voters are just tired of the conversation.”
Silva further argued that the commercial gaming companies backed the previous sports betting measures (Proposition 26 and 27), and it was an expensive fight that cost the California taxpayers an outrageous sum of money. Moreover, some California tribes even doubt whether the 2022 push had tribal backing.
A statement from the Pechanga Tribe of Indians indicated that the tribe did not have a hand in any recent initiatives. The statement released by Jacob Mejia, the Vice President of public affairs for the tribe, read in part:Quote
“As far as we are concerned, this is a tribal measure in name only. We are not aware of any tribes having drafted or played a meaningful part in this proposal. It sounds an awful lot like the ballot measure that was crushed by 82% of voters less than a year ago.”
The San Manuel tribe also revealed they were left out according to a slightly toned-down statement that Dan Little, the chief intergovernmental affairs officer of the tribe, delivered. He opined:Quote
“We were not involved in the development of these initiatives. San Manuel respects the sovereign rights of all tribes but agrees with the CNIGA that any effort affecting tribal governments needs to be made by the tribes.”
Re-visiting California’s Previous Sports Betting Bust
In November 2022, Californians overwhelmingly said no to the most expensive ballot proposition gamble in US history. It is said that roughly $460 million was raised as part of competing efforts to expand gambling and try tapping into the potential of a billion-dollar industry in the Golden State. Despite the massive budget of trying to turn the tides in California, pre-election polls showed that approving the two proposed ballot measures was nigh on impossible.
Proposition 26 would have allowed casinos and the state’s four major horse tracks to offer in-person sports wagering services. While there is doubt about previous tribal support, the initiative was backed and bankrolled by a coalition of Californian tribes and would have allowed dice and card games in the lobbies. The measure also proposed a 10% tax on the operators in place.
The other proposition, 27, called for legalizing online and mobile sports betting for adult Californian citizens. This proposal further stipulated partnerships between the bigwig gaming operators and the various tribes. DraftKings, FanDuel, and BetMGM backed the second initiative. Despite the heavy backing of both initiatives, the California citizens resoundingly pronounced themselves on the matter.
The Road Ahead for the Sports Betting Ballot Initiatives
With the initiatives targeting the November 2024 general election, there are vital steps that the sponsors of these initiatives must take to make the cut. For starters, the supporters of these initiatives will have to collect over 874,641 valid signatures in the next four months. The State’s regulations advise that the signatures should be collected over six months to ensure success.
Should the California citizens assent to the proposals, this will see the tribes contribute 15% of their adjusted sports wagering gross gaming revenue into the Tribal Sports Wagering Revenue Sharing Trust Fund. Tribal nations will also be required to contribute 10% of their adjusted sports wagering gross gaming revenue into the California Homelessness and Mental Health Fund. Should the initiatives succeed this time round, we may be looking at September 1, 2025, as the debut date for sports wagering in the Golden State.
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