California Sports-Betting Ballot Initiatives Unlikely Before 2026

November 10, 2023
Proposals to put two sports-betting initiatives on the California ballot next year have been quickly dismissed by tribal gaming representatives who insist that voters are not ready to revisit the issue after overwhelmingly defeating measures last year to legalize online and retail wagering.

Proposals to put two sports-betting initiatives on the California ballot next year have been quickly dismissed by tribal gaming representatives who insist that voters are not ready to revisit the issue after overwhelmingly defeating measures last year to legalize online and retail wagering.

James Siva, chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA), believes another state-wide vote on sports-betting ballot initiative, whether for retail sports wagering only or both retail and online wagering, remains unlikely before 2026.

Siva admitted the issue is not going away, but a new initiative filed last month ahead of the November 2024 election has left tribal leaders feeling insulted.

“There is no path for this to happen in 2024,” Siva said. “The timing of this is what confuses me the most because we have been having conversations about sports betting all year, even after the results of the two proposals last November.”

Proposition 26 and 27 both failed spectacularly last November with California voters.

Prop. 26, which would have restricted sports betting to in-person wagers at casinos run by California tribes, got just 33 percent of the vote. 

Prop. 27, which would have allowed commercial sports-betting companies, such as DraftKings and FanDuel, to launch online wagering in the state, fared even worse, with just 17 percent of Californians voting yes.

Siva said he became aware a week before October's Gaming Expo (G2E) in Las Vegas that there was going to be another initiative filed by individuals with some connection to a California Indian tribe.

“Everyone was quite shocked, to be frank, given the types of discussions we’ve had all year following up on the two propositions last year,” Siva said.

Siva said CNIGA sought additional information from tribes they thought were connected to the proposal and then invited proponents to speak to tribes in late October. He said proponents “decided not to and filed the very next day.”

The two initiatives, the 'Sports Wagering Regulation and Tribal Gaming Protection Act' and the 'Tribal Gaming Protection Act', were filed with the California Attorney General’s Office on October 27. 

The earliest proponents can begin collecting the 874,641 valid signatures required to be placed on the November 5, 2024, ballot is in early January. The deadline to get the proposals on the 2024 ballot is June 27, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

Pala Interactive co-founders Kasey Thompson and Reeve Collins created Eagle 1 Acquisition Company LLC and are the authors of the two proposals. Pala Interactive is now owned by Boyd Gaming and no longer a subsidiary of the Pala Band of Mission Indians. 

Tribal leaders have expressed frustration with the process, noting that under normal circumstances the supporters of the sports-betting initiatives would have talked with tribes and tribal leaders before filing them.

“That’s the proper way to do it,” said Victor Rocha, conference chairman for the Indian Gaming Association (IGA). “That’s how you get support. That is the way things have been done in California.”

Some of the details of the new initiative includes requiring that tribes enter compacts with the state and contract with sportsbook operators strictly as vendors. All tribal-run sportsbook platforms would also have to be branded exclusively under the tribe’s federally-recognized name.

Reflecting federal restrictions enshrined in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, any company contracted to manage a California tribe's sportsbook could receive up to 40 percent of net revenue with a seven-year maximum contract term. The plan also would require in-person account registration at a tribal casino facility.

“The timing of this puts tribes in a very, very difficult position about how to make a decision in a very short timeframe with a lot of moving pieces,” Siva said. “They have filed two separate initiatives. So, we will see if they choose to move forward with both [or] with one.”

Siva said CNIGA would also wait to see if proponent meet with tribes and take suggested amendments, which they would be able to include in updated ballot language prior to December 1.

“I haven’t heard or seen any tribe step up and say we support this. I think they are using their previous tribal affiliation as the means to gain support,” he added.

Siva and Rocha were joined by Jason Giles, executive director of the IGA, for a webinar on Wednesday (November 8) hosted by the IGA on the future of California sports betting.

Both Thompson and Collins have assured tribes that they will not move forward if tribes do not support their initiative. They have also assured tribes that Eagle 1 Acquisition Company will pay for the effort to legalize sports betting. The two former Pala executives also suggested to earlier this week that they would provide backend technology free-of-charge to enable California tribes to offer sports betting.

“They are going to come in and pay for everything, build this system and give it to tribes for free?” Siva said. “It brings up narratives that we have dealt with our entire history. The entire approach has been an error from the beginning.”

“When you are trying to build a relationship with tribes,” Siva advised, “you have that first opportunity to either get it right or get it very wrong.”

Regardless of the specifics of the new sports-betting initiatives, Siva said he was not at all enthused about going back to state voters again, especially after polling data showed little support for another campaign.

“All the data shows the California voter is just not ready for sports betting at this moment in time regardless of if it is tribally-led, if it is commercially-led. They are not going to be receptive at this moment in time.”

Siva said that California tribes have decided to look beyond the November 2024 election to first let voters recover from last year’s campaign, before then “working our way back into it in future [election] cycles.”

“Now this throws it back into the voters' face and a lot of voters are just tired of the conversation," he added. 

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