California Tribes Think Online Operators Could Sit Out Sports Betting Debate Until 2026

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Apr 9, 2024 08:00 PM
California Tribes Think Online Operators Could Sit Out Sports Betting Debate Until 2026

So much for California tribes and online operators finding common ground on the sports betting issue. It doesn't sound like they'll achieve a happy medium anytime soon—if at all.

Ironing out this division continues to be the biggest obstacle to sports betting in California. It is the sole reason, in fact, that legal wagering of every kind remains illegal inside the state. At the bare minimum, the contentious relationship between California tribes and online operators derailed last year's sports betting campaign.

If you'll recall, two gambling initiatives made it onto the 2022 electoral ballot. Proposition 26 called for the legalization of sports betting exclusively at tribal locations. Proposition 27 would have allowed Californians to sign up with top online sportsbooks that were approved for gambling licenses. California tribes, naturally, supported—and were instrumental in bankrolling—Proposition 26. They argued that Proposition 27 would drive money outside the state economy while damaging their own business model.

The lead-up to November's elections quickly devolved into ugliness. Backers for Prop 26 and Prop 27 spent ungodly amounts of money counter-advertising against the other side. And if you thought the campaigning wasn't pretty, well, the end result was even worse. Californians voted against both sports betting measures. While this wasn't a surprise by the end of the electoral process, it was a shocking twist relative to previous optimism. Most assumed over the summer that legal California sports betting would be approved in some form with ease.

Election results have since been analyzed to no end. The prevailing consensus: Voters grew wary of the incessant counter-advertising and were confused by the conflicting details they were given. As a result, industry experts have suggested that California tribes and online operators must find a way to deliver a collective proposal for 2024. Putting more than one initiative on the next general election ballot risks a similar outcome.

And yet, if you buy into the recent sentiments coming from tribal attorneys, it doesn't appear that this problem is headed toward a solution.

California Tribes Remain United Against Online Operators Receiving Independent Sports Betting Licenses

During a recent all-tribes meeting, participants yet again made it clear they don't want online betting sites receiving their own sports gambling licenses in California. The tribes are generally okay with online operators helping them run their own mobile platforms, but they remain vehemently against these websites entering the market independently.

Top online betting have bristled at this notion. They want the opportunity to capitalize on the size of the California sports betting market. It's not hard to understand their logic. California has 39.3 million registered residents. That accounts for 11.8 percent of the entire United States population. It also means that California is, bar none, the largest sports betting market in the country. The number of professional teams across all North American sports leagues who call California home supports this, as well.

Refusing to work with California tribes as silent partners who merely receive an operating fee has left corporate sportsbooks with one of two options: push for their own sports betting legislature again or sit this round out. Tribal attorneys believe their opponents will opt for the latter, as sources told the folks over at Legal Sports Report:

"California tribes focused on unity during their recent all-tribes meeting, a tribal representative told LSR. Even before [DraftKings CEO Jason] Robins’s comments, tribal representatives were openly wondering whether the sportsbooks would take another shot at legalizing online sports betting in the Golden State. 'The reality may be that we beat them so badly in 2022 that they may not even pursue an effort in 2024,' tribal attorney Scott Crowell, who represents the Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians, said. 'But if that happens, expect them to be back in 2026.'"

This is bad news for anyone hoping online sports betting would come to California in the near future. It's also why experts recently predicted online sports betting in California could be 'four to six years away'.

What Does the Future of California Sports Betting Look Like Now?

As of now, the future of California sports betting seems pretty clear: It may be inevitable, but online wagering is no longer guaranteed.

Without question, the latest is great news for California tribes. If online operators really punt on 2024 legislature, it will allow the state's tribes to introduce their own bill that gets to stand alone on the general election ballot. And as many will tell you, if only one sports betting initiative appears on the 2024 ballot, it will more than likely get the green light from voters.

Right now, we would bet on California legalizing in-person betting and rolling it out before or around 2025. Online betting sites will then need to try and get their legislature on the 2026 electoral ballot. If they're successful, it would set them up for a 2026 or 2027 debut. That's a lifetime in sports betting terms. But unless the California tribes budge on their terms, online sportsbooks will be lucky to enter the market even on this timeframe.

Of course, it's always possible for things to change. Online sportsbooks can still try to pump out their own piece of 2023 sports betting legislation. For now, though, we shouldn't be surprised if they spare themselves the hassle. Campaigning for Prop 27 already cost them well into nine figures. Another attempt won't get any cheaper. Online sportsbooks may simply decide they're better off waiting for California tribes to alter their stance.

Take a look at this list of the top online sportsbooks so you can find one that works for all of your sports betting needs:

Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan Favale leverages over 12 years of sports journalism expertise in his role as New York staff writer. He provides in-depth analysis across the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, tennis, NASCAR, college basketball, and sports betting. Dan co-hosts the popular Hardwood Knocks NBA podc...

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