Members of the association representing most of California’s tribal gaming nations voted Thursday to formally reject two proposed online California sports betting initiatives for next year’s ballot and urged backers to stop their pursuit.
The vote came a day after the individuals who submitted the initiatives to the California Secretary of State’s office met with members of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association. Chairman James Siva did not pull any punches after the vote, saying the matter has been “handled abhorrently” by its proponents.
“It is hard not to be offended when listening to these individuals speak,” Siva said. “This is another example of outside influences trying to divide and conquer Indian tribes.”
CNIGA was critical of the measures after it became public late last month that the proposed constitutional amendments were under review. The group called on the proponents to meet with tribal leaders rather than seeking to “dictate” terms for bringing sports betting to the Golden State.
Who Supports The Proposed Initiatives?
The initiatives have been supported by Reeve Collins and Kasey Thompson, who have connections with Pala Interactive, an online gaming platform created by the California-based Pala Band of Mission Indians. Boyd Gaming acquired Pala Interactive for $170 million last year, and neither Boyd nor the tribe – which is not a CNIGA member, according to the group’s online directory – say they are associated with the initiative.
A message to Collins was not returned Thursday evening. However, in an article published Tuesday in the San Jose Mercury News, Thompson said supporters were willing to spend $25 million to get one of the measures on next year’s ballot. After tribal gaming consultant Victor Rocha slammed the measures and called out the sponsors for not engaging the tribes first, Thompson said in the Mercury News that he looked forward to making sure Rocha knew it would be “the best proposal he’s ever seen.”
On Wednesday, Rocha, in a series of posts on X, called the effort a “moronic attempt” and accused them of lying about holding conversations with tribes. On Thursday evening, he said the board vote to reject the proposed sports betting initiatives was 18-0.
Siva said that CNIGA’s stance “is irrevocable” on the measures.
“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,” he added.
About The California Sports Betting Measures
One is called The Tribal Gaming Protection Act, and the other is The Sports Wagering Regulation and Tribal Gaming Protection Act. The first would amend the California constitution to say state lawmakers can only allow federally recognized tribes to offer retail or online California sports betting apps.
The second would allow sports betting to start no sooner than Sept. 1, 2025, and it also would allow tribal casinos to offer roulette and dice-based table games. Under terms listed in the 40-page draft measure, operators who contract with tribes to provide online sports betting would be entitled to no more than 40% of the net revenues, and contracts between operators and tribes could not run longer than seven years. In addition, participating tribes would contribute 15% of adjusted gross sports betting revenue to a tribal revenue-sharing account and 10% toward a fund for homelessness and mental health services.
The public can review both proposed amendments and submit comments here: oag.ca.gov/initiatives/active-measures through Nov. 27.
Tribes Say They Will Decide
If one or both proposals are approved, proponents could start a statewide signature drive to get one of them on the November 2024 ballot. If that were to happen, it would be the second time in two years for California voters to consider legalizing sports betting.
The two measures that appeared on the 2022 ballot, one led by a group of commercial sports betting operators and the other by tribal nations, were soundly defeated in what was the most expensive political campaign in California history.
California tribal leaders have long insisted on maintaining their exclusive rights to casino gaming in the state and that those rights extend to sports betting. If sports betting comes to the state, they say it will be on their terms.
“California tribes have been successfully engaged in the gaming market for more than four decades,” said Siva, who also serves as the vice chair of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians. “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.”
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