Any doubt that California’s highly influential gaming tribes would reject two proposed ballot measures aiming to bring legal sports betting to the Golden State is now officially gone.
The 52 members of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA) voted Thursday to formally oppose the pair of sports wagering-related initiatives recently filed with the state’s attorney general.
Per a press release, the vote followed a meeting between the backers of the proposed ballot measures (who have ties to a formerly tribal-owned online gaming company, Pala Interactive) and CNIGA’s executive committee.
“The entire effort surrounding these initiatives was handled abhorrently by the initiative sponsors,” CNIGA Chairman James Siva said in a press release. “It is hard not to be offended when listening to these individuals speak. This is another example of outside influences trying to divide and conquer Indian tribes. We will not let history repeat itself.”
The beginning of the end, or end of the beginning?
Comments made by Siva earlier this month on a podcast suggested CNIGA was cool about the initiatives but there’s no doubt anymore about the opposition they will face if their architects try to move forward.
That could spell doom for the latest effort to legalize sports betting in California, especially since tribes spent tens of millions of dollars during the 2022 election cycle to ensure another ballot measure they opposed failed, which it did.
The unveiling of the so-called "Tribal Gaming Protection Act" and "Sports Wagering Regulation and Tribal Gaming Protection Act” also caught CNIGA and other tribes unaware, creating tension from the outset.
“Now that the sponsors have heard directly from tribes that their efforts are not supported, we call on them to drop the initiatives as they have pledged to do if tribes were to oppose them,” Siva said Thursday. “Our opposition could not be more clear and is irrevocable.”
The Golden State for a reason
Yet the allure of California could be enough to keep the latest legalization effort going. The state is by far the most populous in the U.S., and if sports betting were to be legal there, it would be a material market for any operator that could gain access.
Nevertheless, getting tribal support for any legalization measure could be key to its success. And, even though the two proposed initiatives aim to give the tribes control over event wagering in the state, it looks like that support is missing.
“California tribes have been successfully engaged in the gaming market for more than four decades,” Siva said. “This didn’t happen by mistake, nor without careful consideration on the effects to our members and our surrounding communities. Tribal Leaders are the experts, and we will decide what is best for our people.”