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FanDuel Admits Mistakes, Works To Build Trust At California Indian Gaming Conference

Written By Matthew Kredell on February 21, 2024
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Two years ago, FanDuel was public enemy No. 1 among California Indian tribes.

Along with DraftKings and other national companies, FanDuel was trying to bring online sports betting to California. And while the commercial operators were trying to partner with Indian tribes, tribal leaders did not appreciate the effort.

FanDuel served as a sponsor of this week’s Western Indian Gaming Conference. FanDuel President Christian Genetski sat on a panel Wednesday before tribal leaders and good-naturedly took his lumps.

California Nations Indian Gaming Association Chairman James Siva opened the panel by calling Genetski the elephant in the room.

“I know as soon as it was announced that FanDuel was going to be on the panel here and was a sponsor of the conference, it raised some red flags. While I hammered them everywhere I could when we were in the middle of those initiative fights, I always left that last piece that there will be some relationship moving forward. But the way that is decided and dictated and ultimately done will be by tribes.”

Genetski summed up the aftermath of the initiative effort with a quote by UCLA basketball coaching legend John Wooden that failure is never fatal, but failure to change can be.

“When I reflect on 2022, I think if I’m being a little charitable it was what I would describe as a well-intentioned but uninformed and misguided attempt. It was definitely a spectacular failure from our perspective, but that’s OK. It wasn’t the time and it wasn’t the right way, and we understand that. … I’m happy to sit here today and be the butt of some hopefully friendly jokes and have the opportunity to speak transparently about at least where FanDuel is on these issues.”

Effort to make amends starts with listening to tribes

That the FanDuel executive appeared in front of tribal leaders on the panel at Pechanga Resort Casino, one of the tribes that most vehemently opposed Prop 27, is the latest step by the company to try to forge a path to work with California tribes in the future.

Genetski mentioned that FanDuel has made some hires to broaden the company’s perspective and consider how to help shape that ultimate outcome. FanDuel brought in two former San Manuel Band of Mission Indians executives, Rikki Tanenbaum and Frank Sizemore, to lead strategic partnerships.

Genetski stressed that FanDuel is open to having conversations with all California tribes, large and small.

“It’s going to take us a long time to build anything remotely resembling trust, and we accept that and we appreciate it. If we can get to a place where we can start to move the ball forward on a construct that Indian country recognizes as a productive one, that’s when we’ll actually be some place.”

FanDuel is part of the Sports Betting Alliance along with DraftKings, BetMGM and Fanatics, three other companies that backed Prop 27.

Asked what they think about FanDuel making these outreach efforts to California tribes, Genetski responded that they are comfortable with it and want to be part of the conversation.

“There will be array of opinions but I think it is safe to say that we are not the only company that learned something in 2022. I think that is a shared mindset.”

California sports betting mechanics must start from scratch

California is lagging behind most of the rest of the nation in adopting sports betting, which is now legal in 38 states.

But Genetski said California can’t just adopt another state’s model because no other state is like California in size and tribal layout.

Genetksi said California sports betting won’t happen unless it starts with two principles:

  1. The system puts tribal sovereignty first.
  2. The solution works for all California tribes.

“With the requisite humility, we feel like participation from FanDuel and others like us that have spent billions of dollars growing a sports betting market, that there’s a place for us within those two principles that helps deliver on it in the long run,” Genetski said.

A big reason is the state has 110 federally recognized tribes, more than 60 involved in gaming, that have different priorities and interests regarding sports betting.

“I do think California is in a position where you don’t need to say which of the things that have been done before are best for California. I think you start with what are the unique dynamics of California and the role tribes play in California and let’s come up with the best solution. Because there’s not another state that looks like California.”

CNIGA has led discussions on how tribes can move forward with online sports betting so everyone benefits, but those conversations haven’t made much progress.

Siva has said that if commercial online sports betting operators want to work with California tribes, it will be as service providers with tribes as the operators.

Genetski didn’t say whether FanDuel would or would not accept that role.

“I think our perspective has been with these terms, hub and spoke, management services provider, it may look like that but let’s just start from the beginning and see what’s the best solution we can get to.”

When California might get statewide online sports betting

Sports betting won’t be on the ballot for Californians in the 2024 election. Following the lead of the major California gaming tribes, FanDuel and other operators opted not to file a sports betting initiative this election cycle. And a sports betting initiative from other interests looking to work with tribes was withdrawn.

Once tribes align on a path forward for sports betting, Genetski said the next step is confirming through polls and study groups that California voters are ready to support it.

Genetski wasn’t sure that would happen in 2026, 2028 or longer.

“Will that happen by 2026? Well, it’s the first time it can happen. I can go on record that it’s not happening before that. But whether it’s 2026, 2028 or 2030, we’ll know when we know.”

What about California online casino?

With the difficulty in figuring out a way to do online sports betting, California online casino takes a backseat.

However, how online sports betting leads into iGaming has always been a big part of the care tribes take in considering how to move forward.

Genetski was asked about FanDuel Casino’s plans for a  California online casino. He said FanDuel is open to having that conversation with tribes but without any sort of plan or agenda.

“It will be for the tribes to drive that conversation. Tribal sovereignty around gaming is sacrosanct, and that goes for iGaming as well. … I think we’re in listening mode on that topic too. … It may be that that conversation grows. It will be tribally led if it does, about what do tribes want on iGaming, what timetable would they want, what shape or form would they like that to take.”

Siva thanked Genetski and FanDuel for taking part in the conference.

“We always hear lots of nice words. Christian being here today and FanDuel sponsoring the conference I think really puts some actions behind those words, so that means a little bit more to us.”

Photo by Shutterstock
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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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