California Sports Betting Initiatives Have Been Filed, But Lack Tribal Support

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Nov 9, 2023 12:00 AM
Tribes do not seem to support any of the latest California sports betting bills.

Multiple California sports betting bills are slated to be up for debate when the state legislature meets in 2024. However, none of them seem to have more than an ounce of tribal support.

And that’s a problem.

Initially, it appeared that at least one of the measures would have tribal support. One of the petitioners, Reeve Collins, is the co-founder and CEO of Pala Interactive, according to Legal Sports Report’s Mike Mazzeo. The Pala Band of Mission Indians is one of the most influential tribes in the state, and their name had been bandied about in preliminary reports on the initiative. But since the California sports betting measures were filed on Friday, November 3, the Pala Band has made it clear they’re not backing it. 

What are the details of the latest bills to legalize sports betting in California? Will they require tribal support to be pushed through the House of Representatives and Senate? Is there a reason tribes don’t currently back it? 

The immediate future of sports betting throughout California likely depends on the answers to these questions. 

Who’s Behind the Latest California Sports Betting Bills?

The chief question in all this: If not the tribes, who is bankrolling the latest attempt to legalize California sports betting? Right now, there doesn’t appear to be a definitive answer. Collins and some associates are listed as the primary petitioners, but not much is known beyond that. As Mazzeo wrote for LSR:

“Collins and Kasey Thompson are both involved with the Eagle 1 Acquisition Company. Ryan Tyler Walz is also a sponsor, though his tie to Collins is unclear. Thompson recently sent a letter to tribal leaders after filing the initiative, LSR confirmed Monday. However, industry sources told LSR that tribal leaders felt the letter was “offensive.” 

Contacting tribes after filing gambling initiatives that likely require their support is a backwards way of doing things. Granted, there was probably contact prior. That’s why many assumed a handful of tribes would support the current legislation.

And yet, the Palas aren’t the only tribe denying involvement. Both the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians and the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians have stated they are in no way affiliated with the 2024 California sports betting bills on the table.

This lack of tribal support and overall involvement is seen as damning by industry insiders. But for what it’s worth, the terms of these proposals do seem focused on tribal exclusivity.

Details Emerge on the Recently Filed California Sports Gambling Bills

Though not every detail of the latest California sports betting proposals is known, a general outline has emerged.

According to numerous outlets, the bills would grant tribes exclusive rights to California sports betting operations. This would disallow online sportsbooks in the United States from entering the market independently—which is what the state’s tribes have wanted all along.

These acts are designed to protect California tribes and California taxpayers who are seeing their dollars go to offshore unregulated gaming sites,Reeve Collins recently told Mazzeo.

This all sounds good in theory. But we still need to see under the hood of Collins’ initiative. What is the tax rate? How many California sports betting licenses would be given out? Would online sportsbook operators in the United States be allowed to enter the market as tribal partners? 

That list is just the tip of the question-mark iceberg. The whole process here, quite frankly, is curious. Nobody seems to know who’s bankrolling the measures, which seem tribal-friendly but aren’t supported or authored by any tribes

Can California Sports Betting be Legalized without Tribal Support? 

Finally, a question with a definitive answer: Yes, California sports betting absolutely needs tribal support to be legalized. 

Just look at what happened in 2022, when a pair of sports betting initiatives failed at the polls. Indeed, the tribal-supported bill was among the flops. But the California House of Representatives and California Senate openly panned the California online sports betting bill that wasn’t proposed by the tribes. The Palas, San Manuels and Luiseños, among others, all hold an immense amount of influence. If these bills are backed by any of them, let alone proposed by any of them, it doesn’t bode well for how they will be received during legislative sessions.

This isn’t a novel sentiment, either. It is the single biggest obstacle to legalizing California sports betting. Without tribal support, any gambling bill is likely dead in the water. Even if one of the measures makes it past both the House and Senate, there’s still the matter of messaging. The state’s tribes excelled at counter-advertising against the 2022 California online sports betting bill. That influenced how voters approached the matter at the polls. It would be the same story all over again if one of these bills makes it to the 2024 ballot.

Why are California Tribes Against the Latest Sports Betting Bills?

Two factors seem to be driving the negative response from California tribes. Firstly, it doesn’t seem like any of them were directly consulted or engaged prior to these bills being filed.  As we already mentioned, even if you’re giving tribes exclusivity, it doesn’t make sense to craft a proposal to legalize California sports betting without involving them. At the very least, they should have been extensively consulted. From the sounds of things, though, it seems as if they were simply “CC’d” on a plan already in motion.

On top of that, the overwhelming denouncement of these California sports gambling initiatives suggests that they don’t actually offer exclusivity to tribes. To be sure, this is pure speculation. Specific details on the filings remain sparse, if not unavailable. But a handful of California tribal officials have said the bill looks a lot like the one that had an 82 percent disapproval rating in 2022. And that’s reflective of the California online sports betting bill that sought to allow corporate operators to enter the market.

Is this an accurate portrait of the recent gambling initiatives? Will these proposals gain any traction when they’re brought to an official forum? Will California tribes file sports betting bills of their own? The list of questions goes on. And on. And on still. Hopefully, we’ll all be treated to some answers by the start of 2024.

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Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan first began writing about sports back in 2011. At the time, his expertise lied in the NBA and NFL. More than one decade, that remains the case. But he's also expanded his catalog to include extensive knowledge and analysis on the NHL, MLB, tennis, NASCAR, college ba...

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