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California Indian Tribe Announces Plan To File Online Sports Betting Initiative

Written By Matthew Kredell | Updated:
Pala Tribe California Sports Betting

It looks like there will be some California sports betting action for the 2024 election cycle after all.

Multiple tribal sources tell PlayUSA the Pala Band of Mission Indians relayed its intention to file what’s expected to be an online sports betting initiative.

Pala Chairman Robert Smith sent a communication to some tribal leaders Sunday giving them a heads up that the tribe will issue a news release Monday regarding filing a sports betting initiative for 2024.

That press release still hadn’t been issued late in the day Monday, which is Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Tribal representatives at the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas on Monday expressed interest in seeing the language from Pala but skeptical it would garner broader tribal support.

“This is a tribe that has a proclivity to go out on its own, and maybe that’s what’s happening again here,” Pechanga Chairman Mark Macarro told PlayUSA. “Maybe this is just a case of one tribe wanting it so much when no one else really seems to want it. Certainly voters didn’t want it last election. But I’m looking forward to seeing the language. Maybe they came up with something brilliant that no one else thought up.”

When Pala does file a sports betting initiative, it could take a few days for the attorney general to post the filing on its website.

Pala has history of being aggressive in online gaming

The Pala tribe, which is located in north San Diego County, was one of the first tribes in the nation to get involved in the online gaming space.

The tribe created Pala Interactive as an online gaming platform in 2013. Pala sold the iGaming software and services company to Boyd Gaming in 2022 for $170 million.

Pala also isn’t afraid to step out and pursue its own agenda without agreement from other tribes. It was the first tribe to agree to a gaming compact with the state of California. And, in 1998, Pala joined Nevada casinos in opposing Prop 5, the ballot measure that set up California tribal casino gaming as it exists today.

In the 2022 election, Pala spent about $3 million opposing Prop 27, the online sports betting initiative backed by commercial gaming companies.

Getting other tribes on board key to effort

It’s unclear what other California tribes, if any, are part of the initiative effort. Representatives from several California tribes told PlayUSA they are not involved.

Pala leads the California Tribal Business Alliance along with five other tribal members. But a source with ties to one of the alliance members said that tribe wasn’t part of the filing.

Smith concluded his message about the sports betting initiative by expressing his interest to work with other tribes.

Whether Pala follows through on the initiative could depend on if it attracts some deep-pocket tribal partners in the coming months.

But representatives of San Manuel and Pechanga, the two tribes that spent the most on this issue last election cycle, have consistently told PlayUSA their polling shows there is not voter support in California for an online sports betting initiative in 2024. It doesn’t appear that either tribe is involved in this effort.

Four sports betting initiatives were filed for the 2022 election, two by tribes. Two made the ballot and failed badly. Prop 27 garnered 17.7% of the vote, the 11th-worst finish in state history. Prop 26 got support from 33% of voters.

2024 California sports betting effort unexpected

Just last month at the Indian Gaming Association Mid-Year Conference, California Nations Indian Gaming Association Chairman (and Morongo vice-chairman) James Siva and Pechanga Chairman Mark Macarro said they didn’t expect any sports betting initiatives filed in California for the 2024 election. Not from tribes or commercial operators.

And there have been no murmurs of anything brewing on the California sports betting front until now.

This is late for a California sports betting initiative filing. To have the full 180 days to collect signatures for a random count, the secretary of state recommends submitting an initiative by Aug. 22. Pala will have less than five months to collect signatures.

Two years ago, San Manuel and other tribes filed an online sports betting initiative on Nov. 1. They did not have enough time to collect signatures to qualify for the 2022 ballot.

After filing the initiative with the attorney general, the petitioner must wait 65 days to circulate the petition for signatures. During this time, the attorney general creates a title and summary for the initiative. And the department of finance and legislative analyst prepare a fiscal estimate.

The secretary of state recommends petitioners submit signatures to counties for verification by April 23. But there can be a one-to-two-week leeway.

Legalizing sports betting in California takes amending the state constitution. Petitions proposing a constitutional amendment in 2024 require 874,641 valid signatures. That is significantly less than the 997,139 required in 2022.

Initiatives must be qualified by the secretary of state by June 27, 2024, at least 131 days prior to the Nov. 5 election.

Photo by PlayUSA
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Written by
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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