California tribes sent the strongest message yet to sports betting initiative proponents that they oppose their filing.
The California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA), representing 52 tribes, and 28 individual tribes sent a letter indicating they would wage an aggressive opposition campaign if proponents take their sports betting proposal to the ballot.
CNIGA Chairman James Siva said in a statement:
“The opposition coming from Indian Country is loud and it is clear. Tribes will not be distracted by outside influences making empty promises. Indian Country will stand firm in protecting our sovereign rights and integrity. We call on the proponents to do the honorable thing and withdraw these flawed initiatives.”
Details of opposition letter
In the letter addressed to Eagle 1 Corp. executives Kasey Thompson and Reeve Collins, and petition signer Ryan Tyler Walz, the tribes urged proponents to drop their initiatives immediately.
Eagle 1 can begin collecting signatures on the initiative beginning Jan. 2.
The tribes noted that the day the initiative was filed Oct. 27, Thompson had written a letter to tribes indicating they would not proceed without the full support of California tribes. In subsequent interviews, Thompson changed that to a majority of tribes.
According to the letter:
“We are hereby notifying you of the strong opposition from more than half of California tribal nations to these offensive proposals that masquerade as tribal initiatives. Again, we expect you will keep your word and urge you to abandon these proposals without delay.”
CNIGA opposes amended initiative
The letter came after CNIGA voted unanimously last week to oppose the final language of the main initiative.
Proponents amended the initiative last week to remove language deemed problematic by large tribes and provide the entire 25% tax on online sports betting to limited- and non-gaming tribes.
Thompson told PlayUSA he thought the amended initiative would bring support from a majority of California tribes.
CNIGA had previously voted 18-0 to oppose the initiative as originally submitted. After the amendments, CNIGA held a voice vote with 37 tribes in attendance. No tribe registered opposition or abstention.
“The disingenuous nature of these initiatives should be a red flag to every tribal government as well as every voter in California,” Siva said. “The proponent of the measures are attempting to divide and conquer tribes by pushing an initiative that attempts to legitimize illicit off-shore operators and putting our governments at risk”
Tribes reject plan to transfer offshore assets
The sports betting initiative proponents hope to profit from a legal and regulated California online sports betting market by transferring to tribes a portion of offshore online sports betting sites currently operating illegally in the state, once those assets are cleaned and regulated.
This plan is not part of the initiatives. It would be a separate deal that Eagle 1 would attempt to make with California tribes.
The letter characterized the plan as such:
“Your initiatives are a cynical and deceptive attempt to hijack — for your personal gain — the goodwill tribes have earned and maintained for decades with the people of California. According to your own media interviews, these ballot measures are designed to cleanse illegal off-shore online gambling corporations with an appalling track record of illegal gambling, money laundering and other illicit activities.”
Tribes continued in the letter by asserting that they would not allow “imposters” to exploit their good names:
“An aggressive campaign will be waged against these reckless initiatives — like in 2022 which resulted in an 82% NO vote — that harm potential legitimate efforts to authorize sports wagering responsibly in California. Tribal governments will not allow our legitimate and highly regulated operations to be used to support a scheme designed to reward these illegal offshore online gambling companies.”
Big tribal spenders part of opposition
Among the 28 tribes on the letter are the biggest spenders to defeat online sports betting Prop 27 brought by commercial sportsbook operators last election cycle.
Tribes on the letter include the San Manuel, Pechanga, Graton Rancheria, Agua Caliente, Barona and Rincon. Collectively, they spent more than $220 million against Prop 27.
“Nearly 99% of the funding against Prop 27 is represented in that letter,” said Jacob Mejia, vice president of public affairs for Pechanga Development Corp. and a spokesperson for one of the tribal coalitions that opposed Prop 27. “These initiatives will result in another defeat and will delay legalization of sports wagering by years.”