It’s shaping up to be a quiet election cycle for California sports betting.
Speaking at the Indian Gaming Association Mid-Year Conference at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut, California Nations Indian Gaming Association Chairman James Siva told PlayUSA and that he doesn’t expect California tribes or sports betting operators to file a sports betting initiative for the 2024 election.
“We haven’t heard any whispers of anything close to being filed. So I think they were waiting for us, we were waiting for them, and now we’re just kind of going to let the deadline come and pass without any action.”
Sports betting dominated the 2022 election with more than $400 million spent for and against two propositions. But online sports betting Prop 27, sponsored by commercial operators such as FanDuel and DraftKings, had the 11th-worst showing of any California ballot initiative ever with 17.7% support. Prop 26, which would have established retail-only sports betting at California tribal casinos and racetracks, also failed.
That put into question the appetite for another California sports betting ballot battle in 2024. In talks with multiple tribal and industry sources over the past several months, PlayUSA consistently has heard back that no one plans to move forward on sports betting this election cycle. PlayUSA first reported on the possibility of no California sports betting initiatives filed for 2024 in May.
DraftKings CEO Jason Robins said in March that the company was no longer targeting 2024 for California sports betting passage, saying there is “too much tribal opposition to imagine us getting anything done.”
Initiative filing period quickly passing
The California secretary of state suggests petitioners file initiatives by Aug. 22 to receive the full six months to collect signatures to submit for a random check. However, interested parties could theoretically file as late as November or December. Collecting signatures in a short time frame is more difficult and costly.
With the initiative filing period already passing and no whispers about a filing coming, it appears likely that all parties want to give voters and their wallets a break from the California sports betting legalization push this election cycle.
Pechanga Chairman Mark Macarro also told PlayUSA that he expected a quiet year in California in terms of sports betting.
“I think the fact that there was such an overwhelming defeat [in 2022 election] experienced by the corporate entities, I wouldn’t want to come out in ’24 either. So it’s absolutely quiet and nothing is on the horizon in California.”
Macarro said the tribes also realize now is not the right time to go on the offensive with sports betting in California.
“Voters were pretty clear in California. They don’t want sports betting right now, really from tribes or from anybody. So that’s the lay of the land right now.”
Siva initially expected that tribes would file a sports betting initiative in 2024. As chairman of CNIGA, he led several discussions about sports betting among tribal leaders since November.
“As we continued to meet, especially at the CNIGA level, it became apparent that the tribes had some exhaustion both politically and financially from the last campaign. So we moved from a more proactive position to a defensive position.”
California sports betting in Cold War era
With all involved feeling fatigue from the last California sports betting election battle, it’s appeared that each side has waited to see what the other would do.
Siva said that California tribes do have language ready and are prepared to file a defensive sports betting initiative if operators file an online sports betting measure.
“We did work on some language that we were able to put in our back pocket if and when there is another corporate initiative. Because we saw the last time that two competing initiatives tend to negatively affect each other, which ultimately leads to a no vote.”
FanDuel has expressed willingness to work with CA tribes
Following last year’s crushing defeat of Prop 27, tribal leaders were upset with national sportsbook companies even though the operators required partnership with California tribes in their initiative. Leaders from large tribes didn’t like the commercial companies trying to come into California without their approval. But they also took offense to some advertising tactics attacking tribal leaders.
Siva said some commercial operators have reached out to tribes to begin mending their relationships following the bitter 2022 election battle. He singled out FanDuel as making progress with tribes.
“We’ve had some outreach, very much kind of the hat-in-hand meetings where they come in and didn’t outright apologize but were very much what do we need to do to be able to get to the goal. FanDuel has been more amenable to reach out to a number of tribes. I’ve heard from a number of tribes that they’ve reached out. I haven’t heard much from DraftKings, whether they’ve reached out.”
Siva also indicated that tribes will recognize and appreciate the commercial operators taking a step back for the next election cycle.
“I think it helps. And I also think it’s beneficial for both sides to not continue to put the same issue up to the voters consecutively. Because I think if you go back to the well too often you’re going to get that kind of negative result.”
After the election, tribal leaders said sportsbook companies have a role in California if they understand that tribes are running the show. Tribes are the operators and sportsbook companies can work with them through a business-to-business (B2B) model. Similar to how slot machine companies work with tribes.
Sports betting market leaders FanDuel and DraftKings don’t currently have a B2B model. However, Siva said FanDuel has told tribes they are open to a B2B arrangement.
“Very much so. I think they realize that California is a lot different than they had anticipated being on the outside. I think they have had a platform and a game plan for them that has worked in other states. And I think they thought it would work here in California.”
A FanDuel spokesperson said the company had no response to Siva’s comments at this time.
Seminole compact ruling could spark CA tribes for 2026
The DC Circuit US Court of Appeals recently reinstated the Seminole compact and denied a request for rehearing.
California tribes have been watching the court proceedings with great interest. The Seminole compact allows for online sports betting with the bet deemed to take place at the server located on tribal land. Siva previously told PlayUSA that the hub-and-spoke model of the Seminole compact appeals to California tribes.
He explained that a larger California gaming tribe can serve as the hub for smaller gaming tribes in a region. Then smaller tribes can share the same sportsbook and odds-making capabilities of the larger tribe.
Plaintiffs could appeal the decision to the US Supreme Court or go take the sports betting model to state court. But Siva said he expects the decision to uphold the Seminole compact to encourage California tribes to get back to discussing how to do online sports betting for 2026.
“We were waiting to see what happened with the Seminole case. When they won their appeal and now hearing they weren’t granted the en banc rehearing, we are increasing our conversations on sports betting again in California. But not for this cycle. It will be in the next cycle, so 2026 will be the most likely time.”