Following last year’s epic battle for California sports betting that filled airwaves for eight months, everyone wondered what the sequel would look like. The answer could be nothing at all.
It’s beginning to look like a real possibility that no California sports betting initiatives even get filed for 2024.
Dan Little, chief intergovernmental affairs officer for the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, told PlayUSA:
“If everybody is reading the polling that we see, I can’t see anybody filing anything. There’s no appetite for sports wagering in California right now. Voters were very turned off by what happened in ’22 and their views of this industry have gone down.”
Why no one may file a 2024 CA sports betting initiative
Last November, just 17.7% of Californians voted yes on Prop 27, an online sports betting initiative backed by commercial sportsbook operators. That was the 11th-worst recorded ballot measure finish in state history.
Prop 26, which would have legalized sports betting only in person at tribal casinos and horse racetracks, received 33% support.
Since two initiatives met such resounding defeats, there’s been little talk about future California sports betting legalization efforts. And it may just stay that way throughout the next election cycle.
The costly campaigns against the California sports betting measures — $220 million of which were spent by two tribal coalitions — had an effect lasting beyond the election.
Jacob Mejia, vice president of public and external affairs for the Pechanga Development Corporation, said polling conducted since the election shows 65% of Californians oppose online sports betting.
So any party filing a sports betting initiative in 2024 likely is flushing money down the drain.
In March, DraftKings CEO Jason Robins said he didn’t think California sports betting could pass in 2024.
“The lesson learned is if anyone wants to drop that kind of spend, it doesn’t matter what the issue is,” Robins said. “You could defeat any ballot initiative pretty much, at least for a period of time. … I’d say, as of now, there’s really just too much tribal opposition to imagine us getting anything done.”
Defense not needed if no one on offense
Two years ago, stakeholders filed four California sports betting initiatives. Just two qualified for the ballot. The others opted not to try for 2022.
Even if they don’t plan on taking it to the 2024 ballot, some stakeholders might file a California sports betting initiative merely as a deterrence.
Tribes didn’t spend any money promoting Prop 26 last year. But some tribal backers said having another sports betting measure on the ballot hurt Prop 27.
Perhaps multiple factions of tribes file California sports betting initiatives to keep each other in check and commercial operators. Sportsbook operators might want to do the same. Filing an initiative keeps options open.
But Little said he doesn’t think this game of chicken is necessary in 2024. He said having multiple ballot initiatives might have helped defeat Prop 27. But it wasn’t the reason the measure failed.
Judging by the 2022 results and the continued polling, it won’t take much to defeat a California sports betting measure in 2024.
“The significance of having competing ballot measures is less than having a very good opposition campaign because polling does not show voter support for sports wagering,” Little said. “So I don’t know the value in going and filing an initiative just to kind of confuse voters. It’s better to run another ‘no’ campaign.”
Tribes slow down California sports betting discussions
California tribes want to approach online gaming cautiously. The economies of their tribal governments rely on brick-and-mortar casino revenue.
The commercial sportsbook seemed to force their hand in the last election cycle. San Manuel and Rincon responded by filing their own online sports wagering initiative. They began collecting signatures but ended up pivoting to 2024 and then didn’t have enough valid signatures to qualify.
But the corporate online sports betting initiative’s historically bad finish allowed the tribes to take a step back. With 110 tribes of differing circumstances in California, figuring out a solution for online gaming that satisfies all of them is a monumental challenge.
Now they don’t have to solve that problem for 2024. They can take their time.
Tribes still seeking collective approach to CA sports betting
California Nations Indian Gaming Association Chairman James Siva said CNIGA has facilitated discussions on sports betting this year to see if there is a path forward. But the group has thus far focused more on unity than specific details.
“I think we’re trying to move away from coalitions and trying to get to an overall united approach,” Siva told PlayUSA. “I think the tribes are all on the same page as far as maintaining exclusivity, protecting our industry, protecting sovereignty. That’s our No. 1 priority.”
Pechanga Band of Indians Chairman Mark Macarro described to PlayUSA the challenge of finding a tribal solution to online California sports betting:
“The only way this is going to work in California is if all the tribes feel like there is a win for them. I don’t know exactly what that means. It means different things to different tribes based on how they are situated, based on their individual tribe’s circumstances.
“For some tribes, mobile gaming is the great equalizer. … For most tribes with gaming operations in the state, preserving brick-and-mortar while transitioning and making preparations for the legalization of sports betting in a digital format between the next two to I’ll just say eight years maybe on the time horizon, is probably what makes more sense. But the opportunity for all tribes has to involve all tribes.”
What’s needed for CA sports betting to move forward
California doesn’t seem likely to legalize sports wagering in 2024. But it is coming. By the end of this year, nearly 40 states will have legalized sports betting.
California, with the most major professional sports teams of any state, is bound to join them.
For Californians to get a legal sports betting option, here’s what needs to happen:
Tribes need to come up with a plan to share online gaming revenue
Sportsbook operators need to repair their relationship with tribes
The 2022 campaign got nasty with sportsbook operators going after successful tribes and accusing them of holding down economically disadvantaged tribes.
“If they really want to have a working relationship with tribes, I think that’s going to have to be an absolute necessity on their path,” Siva said.
Operators accept tribal approach to sports betting
California tribes don’t want to partner with sportsbook operators as happens in other states. Tribes want the operators to work for them.
“There’s going to be a role for those guys, absolutely,” Siva said. “But it’s not going to be at an operator level. It’s going to be just like the slot companies. It’s going to be a service provider, a vendor. They’re going to come in and provide a service to the tribes, and that’s how it is because tribes are the operators in the state.”
A change in the federal approach to tribal online gaming
San Manuel’s original proposal for online sports wagering was a hub-and-spoke model done through a tribal-state compact under IGRA (the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act). The Seminole tried a similar model in a compact with the state of Florida and its legality is under question in a US Court of Appeals. The US Department of Interior also is considering rules changes to specifically allow statewide online gaming in tribal compacts. Favorable rulings could make a big difference in how the tribes approach online sports betting in future election cycles.
“A lot of tribes, especially in California, were waiting to see what happened with that because it really set up a framework for online not just sports betting but online gaming overall,” Siva said. … “I’m happy to see those regs mirror what was contemplated in that original Seminole compact.
“I think tribes would give online a much deeper look. Right now, the models that have been presented and discussed are complicated and maybe don’t work as well for tribes. But the new regs would give us a framework that I think a lot of tribes, especially the smaller limited-gaming tribes, could really get behind because it’s kind of a bigger equity sharing potential.”
More on 2024 CA sports betting prospects end of summer
We’ll know this summer if there is any possible California sports betting initiative action on the 2024 ballot.
To get the full six months to gather signatures to qualify for the ballot, stakeholders must file an initiative in August. They could wait a little longer and not use the full time allotment.
Siva said he still thinks there’s a good chance that some type of sports betting initiative gets filed. Even if it’s only as an effort to flush out other potential initiatives.
“The size of the California market dictates that an election cycle will not go by without at least some type of effort from some party, whether it’s tribes or commercial operators. So I’ve heard Mr. Robins, I’ve seen the quote. I think that’s the right thing to say, but I would not be surprised if in a month or two you see them drop another initiative.”