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California tribes move against 2 ballot measures seeking to expand sports wagering, cardrooms

Chairman Kenneth Kahn of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians described the measures as "deceptive and harmful."
United States
Reading time 2:23 min
Two tribal coalitions issued a statement opposing initiatives seeking to expand sports wagering for other parties, claiming it would undermine tribal sovereignty. One measure, backed by cardrooms, would allow them to offer Nevada-style games, plus sports wagering. A second online sportsbooks-backed measure would give them "near-total control of the market." There is already a tribal-backed in-person sports wagering measure scheduled for the Nov. 2022 ballot.

California Indian tribes are opposing two ballot measures looking to allow wagering on sporting events outside of tribal casinos and racetracks. Two tribal coalitions issued a statement last Friday opposing the measures, for which supporters are trying to gather enough signatures to make the November 2022 ballot.

The California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA) and the Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations (TASIN) collectively represent 43 California Indian Tribes. In their view, the proposed ballot measures would seriously undermine tribal sovereignty.

The first measure, called by the coalitions as the “Card Room Gaming Expansion Scheme,” would authorize expansion of urban casino gaming in California by letting cardrooms offer Nevada-style games, while also allowing them and other parties -including tribes, horse racetracks, professional sports teams- to offer in-person and online sports wagering in the state.  The measure calls for a 15% tax on sports betting profits.

The second measure, referred to as the Corporate Online Sports Gaming Proposition, would also authorize a sports betting expansion in California. According to tribal operators, it was “written by and for the sole benefit” of out-of-state online gaming corporations, by giving them "near-total control" of the market, thus “undermining tribal rights.” 

Supported by online sportsbooks, it would allow in-person betting at tribal casinos, which could offer online betting through partnerships with online betting companies. It calls for a 10% tax on online betting profits.

Tribes believe the measure is not “complementary” to a tribal-backed in-person sports wagering measure scheduled for the November 2022 ballot, but a “competing initiative” that significantly expands online and mobile gaming. Gaming tribes fear they would have to give up certain rights under new gaming laws.

"These deceptive measures were written by and for the sole financial benefit of their corporate sponsors and funders,” said Chairman Anthony Roberts, Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation. "These measures would be bad for California and bad for tribes. We are prepared to wage a vigorous and well-funded campaign to educate the voters and ensure the measures are defeated.”

Both measures will need about 1 million signatures each to make the ballot: the card rooms one has until April 12, 2022, while the second must await permission from the California attorney general’s office to gather signatures.

The propositions would authorize the largest gaming expansion in the state’s history, which tribes believe would disrupt “the commitment that California voters have made to Indian tribes for over two decades.” Tribal casinos have further said an explosion of gaming would “undercut tribal sovereignty and self-sufficiency.”

“California voters have stood with tribes and we’re proud to have consistently upheld our commitment to this state and to the voters,” said Chairman Kenneth Kahn, Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians. "We’re confident that the voters will once again stand with the vast majority of Indian tribes in opposing these deceptive and harmful measures.”

In consequence, sports betting legalization in California seems positioned for a long-term dispute. A profitable business in states where it has been legalized, sports wagering could prove to be a millionaire industry in California, home to more pro sports teams than any other state.

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