Tribes and Online Sportsbooks Seem Ready to Tackle California Sports Betting Issue Together

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Apr 27, 2024 08:00 PM
Tribes and Online Sportsbooks Seem Ready to Tackle California Sports Betting Issue Together

It seems the California sports betting dialogue is making real progress for the first time in roughly two years. 

Will the latest development lead to actual legalization in the next couple of years? It’s much too early to say. And even if it wasn’t, this remains a delicate issue. Remember, back in 2022, the legalization of sports betting in California was painted as a formality. Voters had two proposals from which to choose and ratify. Early on, many believed both measures (known as Prop 26 and Prop 27) might receive the stamp of approval. Instead, both California sports betting initiatives failed spectacularly. And in doing so, it furthered a gridlock between the state’s tribes and lobbyists for online sportsbooks in the United States.

That stalemate has persisted since before the 2022 elections. Back then, though, both parties seemed willing to bankroll separate California sports betting proposals. That’s no longer the case. In each of the past two legislative sessions (2023 and 2024), neither side has tried pushing a sports gambling bill through the House of Representatives and Senate. So it’s not even like attempts to legalize sports betting throughout the Golden State are failing. They’re not happening at all.

Key stakeholders from each side have ostensibly decided that warring campaigns aren’t worth the financial downside. Large-scale policy pushes cost millions of dollars, right down to counter-advertising against the other side. And when there’s no guarantee your measure will pass, the idea of funding one loses much of its palatability.

Instead, both sides understand they need to collaborate on a California sports betting timeline. The problem? Neither has seemed willing to do so—despite claims to the contrary.

Until now, that is.

FanDuel CEO Amy Howe Emphasizes the Importance of Online Sportsbooks Partnering with Tribes for California Sports Betting

Signs of a thawing relationship between tribes and online sportsbooks in the USA started to emerge. The most critical one came during a panel at the Indian Gaming Tradeshow & Convention in Anaheim. FanDuel CEO Amy Howe was among the moderators, and she painted a picture of real, measurable progress between the two parties. Here are all the details, via Point Spreads:

During a panel discussion at the Indian Gaming Tradeshow & Convention in Anaheim, FanDuel CEO Amy Howe emphasized the importance of tribal partnerships in future efforts to legalize sports betting and online gambling. Recognizing past missteps and the significance of tribal sovereignty, Howe underscored the need for a unified approach with the 100-plus tribes in California. Joined by tribal leaders including James Siva, chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA), and Jacob Mejia, director of public affairs for Pechanga Development Corporation, Howe candidly discussed the turbulent history between commercial operators and tribal entities. The conversation reflected a collective commitment to forging a new path forward built on mutual respect and collaboration. ‘We have the destination, now we’re just carving the path’” Siva said and stressed the importance of tribes leading the way.’”

It is tough to properly state the importance of this development. These stakeholders have gone from, apparently, radio silence to what seems like active discussions and collaboration. It’s too late for California sports betting legalization in 2024, but this does seem to bode well for attempts in 2026.

With that said, plenty of obstacles are still left to clear.

The Future of Sports Betting in the Golden State Could Hinge on This One Thing

Back in 2022, most of California’s tribes were not in favor of legal online sports betting. The state’s gaming compact grants them gambling exclusivity, which is why tribal support is so important to expanding laws. Tribes, however, believed they should be able to maintain that exclusivity rather than compete with commercial sportsbooks. They were willing to let online sports betting sites like FanDuel, DraftKings and Caesars partner with them to run applications. But they did not want these companies to have independent licenses.

It does not appear anything has changed on this front. Like Siva said above, he believes tribes should be “leading the way.” He also added another pretty pointed statement.

“Expansion of gaming is going to happen,” Siva explained. “It’s a matter of when, not if. But when that does happen, tribes are going to remain in control. We will partner with companies, we will utilize products. But tribes are the operators in California, period. That’s it.”

Based on these sentiments, it sure seems like California sports betting negotiations could run into the same issues it did two years ago. 

Should We Expect Online Sportsbooks to Make Concessions in California?

And yet, let’s remember that Siva expressed these thoughts in front of FanDuel officials. That suggests they won’t be caught off-guard by this tribal stance. And that, in turn, means top online sportsbooks operating in the USA could be prepared to make concessions just to enter the region. After all, partnering with tribal operators is better than not capitalizing on the United States’ biggest sports market in any capacity.

The context of any potential compromise is unclear at this juncture. However, some have floated that California retail sports betting will be legalized in 2026, with tribal operators leading the way. Then, in 2028, California online sportsbooks would be allowed to enter the mix.

Are sports betting sites like FanDuel and DraftKings prepared to wait another three to four years before they’re permitted to accept wagers in California? Once more, it’s too early to tell. But considering where tribes stand, the decision might be made for them. 

Because right now, it seems they’ll be deciding between the ability to enter the California market in 2028 or not entering the California market at all.

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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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