California Tribes Pledge $100m To Defeat Online Sports-Betting Ballot Initiative

February 10, 2022
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A coalition of California gaming tribes has formed a committee to campaign against a ballot initiative to authorize online sports betting proposed by FanDuel, DraftKings and other major U.S. operators, setting up a $200m battle royale over the referendum.

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A coalition of California gaming tribes has formed a committee to campaign against a ballot initiative proposed by FanDuel, DraftKings and other major U.S. operators, setting up a $200m battle royale over online sports betting in the Golden State.

The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, the Rincon Band of Luisueno Indians and Wilton Rancheria announced Wednesday (February 9) they have formed Californians for Tribal Sovereignty and Safe Gaming and established an initial campaign budget of $100m.

“In 2000, Californians voted to give sovereign Indian nations the exclusive right to operate gaming in California,” Roger Salazar, a spokesman for the committee, said in a statement.

“The online sports-betting measure sponsored by out-of-state corporations violates that promise of sovereignty, which has worked exceptionally well now for over two decades to the benefit of the tribes and California,” Salazar said.

The proposed “California Solutions to Homelessness and Mental Health Support Act” would allow only Indian tribes or qualified sportsbook operators partnering with tribal casinos to offer online sports wagering.

Established online operators acting as the designee of a tribe would be required to pay a $100m fee to use own brands for online sports wagering, although tribes could also offer online betting using their own casino brands for a lesser upfront fee of $10m.

The initiative, supported by DraftKings, BetMGM, FanDuel, Penn National, WynnBET, Bally’s and Fanatics Betting and Gaming, was announced in August with the coalition raising an initial $100m to get their measure on the ballot.

The three opposing tribes are supporting an alternative ballot measure that would limit online sports betting exclusively to California tribal nations and their established casino brands, while requiring in-person registration of accounts at tribal casinos.

The proposed initiative would also entitle tribes to amend their gaming compacts to include craps, roulette, and retail sportsbooks at their brick-and-mortar casinos.

“The out-of-state corporation will export money from California and have a track record of questionable operating practices,” said Rob Stutzman, also a spokesman for the committee.

The campaign announcement comes two days after leaders of two other tribes warned voters in an op-ed published by CalMatters that the proposed measure would be bad for tribes and state residents.

Raymond Welch, chairman of the Barona Band of Mission Indians, and chairman Greg Sarris of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria urged voters to support the in-person sports-betting initiative that has already qualified for the November ballot.

In a letter released on October 29, the California Nations Indian Gaming Association and the Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations also announced their 43 members opposed the initiative.

Nathan Click, a spokesman for the online operator initiative, said in a statement emailed to VIXIO GamblingCompliance that the companies were not going to be deterred by “these false political attacks.”

“Our measure is proving to be incredibly popular with Californians,” Click said. “Ours will be the only measure on the ballot that will guarantee hundreds of millions annually to help solve homelessness and support mental health care.”

Click also reminded opponents that half of the U.S. has now authorized “safely regulated” online sports betting.

“Our measure also provides millions in revenue for California tribes — both to gaming and non-gaming tribes alike,” Click added.

Supporters of both initiatives have until mid-July to gather 997,139 signatures, or 8 percent of the total votes cast for governor in the November 2018 general election, to become eligible for the November 8, 2022 ballot.

A fourth measure trying to gain inclusion on the 2022 ballot would allow cardrooms to offer sports betting throughout the state.

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