The effort to legalize online sports betting in California received a major boost from two Native American tribes that announced their support for the newly qualified ballot measure.
Both the Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians and the Middletown Rancheria of Pomo Indians have decided to back the online-gaming legislation known as the "California Solutions to Homelessness and Mental Health Support Act."
"We’re supporting the Solutions Act because it gives us an opportunity to protect our sovereignty and also create opportunities for economic wealth for the next seven generations for our tribe," said Jose “Moke” Simon, chair of the Middletown Rancheria of Pomo Indians, in comments made to the San Francisco Chronicle.
“It also helps the state of California deal with some of the biggest problems that it has here, that is affecting every community, which is homelessness and mental health issues,” added Simon, who features in a new online ad for the legislation.
Ballot battle looms
The measure recently qualified for the state ballot in November and would bring legal online sports betting to California if approved by voters. It is backed by major operators such as DraftKings and FanDuel, which are attempting to win support by proposing to funnel 85% of state tax revenues towards housing for the homeless, mental health services, and treatment for people with gambling problems.
However, the initiative is facing a stiff challenge from a rival bill proposed by a broad coalition of California tribes that dominate the state gaming sector and that have already pledged to spend as much as $200 million in advertising to convince voters to reject the sportsbooks' bill and pass their alternative measure instead.
Nevertheless, the leaders of the two Pomo tribes view the legalization of online betting in California as a historic means by which smaller, disadvantaged state tribes will benefit from what the Pomo tribes believe will be "hundreds of millions of dollars" in new annual state tax revenues generated by online wagering.
"The Solutions Act would be life-changing for our people," said Philip Gomez, chair of the Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians, in a press release. "For too long, rural and economically disadvantaged Tribes like ours have struggled to provide for our people. This measure would provide us with economic opportunities to fortify our Tribe’s future for generations to come.”
Jumping on the bandwagon?
The Pomo Tribes may be setting the stage for other California tribes who do not currently own or operate casinos or offer other forms of gambling to potentially jump on the online sportsbooks' bandwagon. And should the online gaming initiative gain voter approval in November, there could be competition amongst tribes to affiliate with the major operators.
The Pomo tribal leaders also pointed out that the online-betting bill requires the sportsbook operators to partner with California tribes while providing autonomy to other tribes who choose not to enter the gaming sector.
Furthermore, the remaining 15% of revenue from the measure will be allocated to state tribes not affiliated with gaming operations. According to official state estimates, this would double the revenues that non-gaming tribes currently receive from gaming in California.
“The Solutions Act protects Tribal sovereignty and will allow every Tribe – not just those with big casinos close to big cities – a chance to directly benefit from online sports betting in California,” Simon added in the release. “The measure puts Tribes firmly in control of online sports betting in California.”