Business · Politics

Calif. tribes on the warpath against online giants, card rooms in 2022 sports betting fight

California, home to a robust ballot initiative culture, is about to see an unchecked, three-way war to regulate sports betting and key pieces of its gambling economy next year.

The battle is already heating up.

Friday, two associations of California tribal interests – the California Nations Indian Gaming Association and the Tribal Alliance of Indian Nations – launched the first shot against competing ballot measures to regulate sports betting.

The targets? Proposed initiatives drafted by California card room operators and their host cities along a separate initiative led by online gambling giants DraftKings, FanDuel, and BetMGM.

In a statement released Friday, the tribal coalition branded the competing measures, which have yet to qualify for the ballot, as “the Card Room Gaming Expansion Scheme” and “the Corporate Online Sports Gaming Proposition.”

Beyond legalizing, taxing, and regulating sports betting, the card room-led measure would allow for card rooms to engage in games – including those with player-dealer wagers – and designate them as not being a banked or percentage game.

The legal tweak would resolve a considerable amount of headache for card rooms and bring a swift end to regular probes from the California Department of Justice over the issue.

Tribes, however, characterize the change as the expansion of card rooms into Nevada-style gaming.

Meanwhile, tribal officials attacks on the measure led by DraftKings, FanDuel and BetMGM attempt to combat claims by out-of-state proponents that it is a complementary initiative.

“These deceptive measures were written by and for the sole financial benefit of their corporate sponsors and funders,” said Yocha Dehe Wintun nation chair Anthony Roberts.

“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.”

Tribal interests note that the online-led measure would force the forfeiture of some elements of tribes’ special status to engage in gaming activities in order to provide sports wagering.

They also criticized the online-centric measure for claims of directing gambling tax revenues to respond to California’s homelessness crisis by funding homeless initiatives and mental health services.

“Look no further than the State Lotteryvoters were promised billions in new revenue for public education, but decades later, it has failed to live up to the promise,” the tribal coalition said in a statement.

Previously, card room operators criticized California’s tribal-led sports betting initiative for creating a monopoly.

“[We] do strongly oppose the self-serving tribal casino monopoly initiative that will only benefit wealthy tribal casino operators to achieve their goal of a gambling monopoly with no benefits for California residents,” said California Gaming Association Executive Director Joe Patterson.

Reid Stone is a contributing reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun.