California Tribes Oppose Latest Sports-Betting Initiatives

October 30, 2023
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California Indian tribes are fiercely opposing two new sports-betting ballot initiatives filed with the state attorney general’s office, even though the measures would give tribes full exclusivity over retail and mobile wagering.
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California Indian tribes are fiercely opposing two new sports-betting ballot initiatives filed with the state attorney general’s office, even though the measures would give tribes full exclusivity over retail and mobile wagering.

“The California Nations Indian Gaming Association [CNIGA] is deeply disappointed that the sponsors of the two recently filed initiatives did not reach out to the state’s largest tribal gaming association for consultation and input,” the organization said in a statement on Friday (October 27).

“Instead, CNIGA and our member tribes were alerted to their existence when they were filed with the attorney general (earlier on Friday). Decisions driving the future of tribal governments should be made by tribal governments.”

CNIGA, which represents 52 federally-recognized tribes in California, stressed that although the “sponsors of these initiatives may believe they know what is best for tribes, we encourage them to engage with Indian Country and ask, rather than dictate.”

The two initiatives filed with the attorney general's office were signed by Ryan Tyler Waltz, with instructions that media inquiries should be directed to Reeve Collins.

Collins was co-founder and chief executive of Pala Interactive, generating speculation on social media that the Pala Band of Mission Indians in northeast San Diego County, could be behind the initiatives. Initially founded as a commercial venture of the Pala Band, Pala Interactive was acquired by Boyd Gaming in March 2022 for $170m.

In an email to California tribes, measure sponsor Kasey Thompson, president and CEO of Eagle 1 Acquisition Company LLC and another former Pala Interactive executive, stressed that the proposal would permit only California tribes to control retail and mobile wagering.

“Our proposal enables all California tribes to control their own destiny and participate in sports betting however and whenever they see fit,” Thompson wrote in an email obtained by Vixio GamblingCompliance. “Most importantly, our proposal prohibits all offshore and out-of-state operators from controlling sports betting in California.”

Thompson stressed that the supporters of the new ballot measure had met with a number of California tribes, “and we would like to meet with you and all other tribes over the next 30 days so that we can ensure that our initiative represents your interests and reflects your input.”

“We do not plan to proceed unless we have the full support of the California tribes,” Thompson said. 

Thompson also asked that tribal operators “refrain from public statements” until he meets with them.

It is not clear if Thompson, Collins or Waltz are actually members of California tribes or what the status of their relationship is with tribes. According to the filings and email, each of the three are are identified as being employed by Eagle 1 Acquisition Company.

“We do not believe that waiting another two years is in the best interests of the California tribes or the people of California,” Thompson wrote, referencing a legal structure that requires a voter referendum in an even-numbered year in order to legalize sports betting in California. “The California tribes and the state itself are leaving significant revenue on the table, and we want to help reverse that situation now.”

Thompson added that the impact of the recent rulings by the U.S. Court of Appeals in the Florida-Seminole case “have yet to be felt in California but could be significant.”

“The time to submit a sports wagering proposal in California is now,” he added.

The two initiatives are titled the “Sports Wagering Regulation and Tribal Gaming Protection Act.” One measure, numbered 23-001, would amend the state constitution to ensure that the state legislature cannot authorize retail or online sports betting for any person or entity other than an Indian tribe.

The other, numbered 23-0030, proposes a full framework for legal and regulated sports betting in California.

Some of the details of the initiative include 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.

The initiative further would require in-person registration for mobile wagering accounts, allow wagering only by people aged 21 and older, and permit betting only on professional, college, or amateur sports or athletic evens while excluding high school and lower-level school sports and athletic events.

Similar to Proposition 27, which California voters rejected in 2022 by a margin of 83 percent to 16 percent, the measure would provide revenue to establish the California Homelessness and Mental Health Fund to help address homelessness and mental health throughout the state.

According to the proposal, sports-betting tribes would contribute 10 percent of adjusted gross revenue into the fund and 15 percent to revenue sharing with limited and non-gaming tribes.

It is far from clear whether California voters have the appetite to decide whether to legalize sports betting next year, following the lopsided rejection of two earlier ballot measures less than a year ago.

Last November, voters also defeated Proposition 26, which would have restricted sports betting to in-person wagers at casinos run by California tribes, with more than 70 percent of voters opposed.

Due to when they were filed, the two initiatives have only four months, instead of 180 days, to collect the 874,641 valid signatures required to be placed on the November 5, 2024 ballot.

Thompson said the proposal would allow out-of-state regulated sports-betting operators to participate in the California market by providing management services, co-branding and other potential opportunities, but all under the stewardship, control and 100 percent ownership by Californian tribes.

“Eagle One was founded to bring in-person and online sports betting to the tribes of California,” Thompson wrote.

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