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California Tribal Association Votes To Oppose Sports Betting Initiative

Written By Matthew Kredell on November 16, 2023 - Last Updated on December 14, 2023
California Tribes Sports Betting Update

The California Nations Indian Gaming Association voted unanimously Thursday to oppose two proposed California sports betting initiatives.

CNIGA represents 52 California tribes, including the most influential and successful gaming tribes in the state.

The vote comes one day after initiative proponents Kasey Thompson and Reeve Collins pitched their sports betting proposal to CNIGA’s executive committee over Zoom.

“The entire effort surrounding these initiatives was handled abhorrently by the initiative sponsors,” CNIGA Chairman James Siva said in a statement. “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.”

Thompson, CEO of Eagle 1 Acquisition Co., told PlayUSA that the unanimous vote did not represent what he heard on the video conference.

“CNIGA came out against us the very first day, so this is nothing new,” Thompson said. “The most passionate people on that call were in support of Eagle 1, not against us. I was thankful to hear such vocal support, and I look forward to getting over the amendment period and showing the support for what we put together.”

Details of CNIGA pitch

Thompson previously described to PlayUSA an ambitious proposal to transfer ownership to tribes of the California operations of offshore online gaming websites currently operating illegally in the state.

While the proposal could have some elements that appeal to tribes, Siva said the pitch did not go well.

“His pitch was kind of an over-energetic mixture of rambling and overhyping himself, talking about all the things they’ve done in the past, all the funds they have available, but never laying out the exact details of these are our backers, these are the people we’ve put together,” Siva told PlayUSA. “He was just saying we have all this, while spouting out I don’t know how many words a minute.”

Siva is among tribal leaders who have criticized the approach of those behind the initiatives. CNIGA has held discussions on sports betting all year. But proponents never sought to be part of those discussions. They then submitted the initiatives at the last minute, surprising many tribal leaders who had said they expected no sports betting initiatives filed for 2024.

Thompson tried to explain that proponents have worked with some tribal representatives for the past year and a half. And Pala Casino CEO Fred Buro spoke to confirm that Thompson and Collins, who founded Pala Interactive with the tribe, had worked with the tribe on this proposal. But, ultimately, the Pala tribal council voted not to have Chairman Robert Smith file the initiative.

“When he talked with the CNIGA executive committee, he seemed to think that if a tribe wasn’t actively, publicly opposing them, he takes it as support,” Siva said of Thompson. “I found that messaging incredibly dangerous. As of today, I haven’t heard of one single tribe standing up and saying they support the initiative.”

Siva said the proposal to eliminate the unregulated online gaming market in the state by handing over control to tribes could sound appealing on its surface. But he’s still not sure how it would work.

“They seem to have a backroom deal signed with these illegal operators in which we’ll come in and buy you guys out. They’ll give us tribes the California operations, and then they’ll take them to use in the rest of the country. So they are going to acquire all of these illegal companies, have tribes wash them and validate them in California, then they’ll take them and profit in the rest of the country.”

What now for CA sports betting initiative proponents?

In presenting his initiative, Thompson said he would only move forward if the initiative had tribal support.

In that case, Siva said the CNIGA vote means it’s time for the initiative proponents to step down.

“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. Our opposition could not be more clear and is irrevocable.”

CNIGA membership includes the three tribes that spent the most money to defeat Prop 27 last year — San Manuel, Pechanga and Graton Rancheria.

Despite Thursday’s vote, Thompson remains hopeful that Eagle 1 can get support from a majority of California’s 110 federally recognized Indian tribes after making amendments recommended by tribes.

He said he believes there is support from many tribes that receive supplemental gaming revenue from the state’s Revenue Sharing Trust Fund. Thompson is offering to allow tribes to amend the initiative as they see fit. Amendments are due Dec. 1.

“It’s very misleading to say that 52 tribes are against Eagle 1, because that’s not the truth,” Thompson said. “We’ll continue to work with tribes on amendments. And, like I said from the beginning, we will only put this on the ballot with majority tribal support.”

Siva confirmed to PlayUSA that the unanimous vote was 18-0.

“If we have enough for a quorum, we take a vote and they speak for the entire association,” Siva said. “That’s how any trade association works. With the holidays coming up, a lot of tribes have other things going on. They look at this initiative as having no real chance of passing, so they’re just going to ignore it.”

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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