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Analysis: What Happened To The California Tribe’s Sports Betting Initiative?

Written By Matthew Kredell | Updated:
California Sports Betting Pala Update

Here’s the latest on California sports betting possibilities based on conversations with many tribal stakeholders.

Talk began last Friday and picked up over the weekend that Pala was preparing to file a sports betting initiative this week.

On Sunday, with many tribal leaders inquiring about Pala’s intentions, Chairman Robert Smith texted some tribal leaders to explain. Forwarded to PlayUSA by a source, the text read:

“Heads up Pala Band of Mission Indians is issuing a press release tomorrow sports wagering initiative for 2024, look forward to working with tribes!”

PlayUSA ran an article Monday morning about the news of Pala’s contact with tribes regarding filing a sports betting initiative.

Pala takes step back after tribal response

With many tribal leaders responding negatively to the idea of a sports betting initiative, Pala did not issue the press release Monday.

Pechanga Chairman Mark Macarro, one of the most prominent tribal leaders in the state, commented to PlayUSA about the potential for a Pala proposal Monday at the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) in Las Vegas.

“This is a tribe that has a proclivity to go out on its own, and maybe that’s what’s happening again here. Maybe this is just a case of one tribe wanting it so much when no one else really seems to want it. Certainly voters didn’t want it last election. But I’m looking forward to seeing the language. Maybe they came up with something brilliant that no one else thought up.”

On Tuesday morning, Pala met with members of the California Tribal Business Alliance to gather support for the initiative filing.

Pala formed the CTBA in 2004. The other four members are the Ione Band of Miwok Indians, Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians, Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians and Wilton Rancheria.

After receiving input from CTBA members and other tribal leaders, Pala did not follow through on filing the initiative this week. The tribe is said to be considering its options.

Tribal conversation ongoing around CA sports betting

Adding to the initiative intrigue, many California tribal leaders were together this week at G2E.

Entering the month, it seemed like no tribe was interested in filing a sports betting initiative for this election cycle. They spent a lot of money to keep the status quo in 2022.

And California voters resoundingly rejected two sports betting ballot measures. Representatives from Pechanga and San Manuel, the two biggest spenders to defeat Prop 27, said recent polling continued to show a lack of support for legalizing sports wagering in California.

But Pala’s move sparked a conversation among tribal leaders at G2E. Tribes that weren’t previously going to get involved in a sports betting measure for 2024 are now discussing the possibility, according to sources.

However, there’s more consensus among tribes around a brick-and-mortar sports betting initiative. Possibly something similar to Prop 26 last year but without the clause seeking standing to sue California cardrooms.

If tribes want to file a California sports betting initiative, they would need to do so in the next week or two to have enough time to collect signatures.

The secretary of state recommended filing initiatives by Aug. 22 to get the full 180 days to circulate the petition. Any initiative filed this month will have about two months chopped from the ideal signature collection timeframe.

It seems unlikely that major tribes will get behind an online sports betting measure this election cycle. They have not yet figured out how to do online sports betting in a way that benefits all tribes.

Photo by PlayUSA
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Matthew Kredell

Matthew Kredell serves as senior lead writer of legislative affairs involving online gambling at PlayUSA. He began covering efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling in 2007 after federal passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act disrupted his hobby of playing small-stakes online poker. He has since interviewed more than 300 lawmakers around the country and written extensively about online gambling legislation. He has led coverage of bills to legalize online gambling in most states. A lifelong Angeleno and USC journalism alum, Matthew started his career working as a sportswriter for a decade at the Los Angeles Daily News. He has written on a variety of topics for Playboy Magazine, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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