Native American Tribes Pushing for Legal Sports Betting in California

  • A coalition of 18 tribes have proposed a constitutional amendment to legalize sports betting
  • It proposes a 10% tax rate on gross revenue from sports betting at tribal casinos and racetracks
  • To make its way onto the 2020 ballot, 997,139 signatures are required from registered voters
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An initiative supported by 18 Native American tribes calls for the legalization of sports betting in California. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Massive potential

A powerful coalition of Native American tribes is pushing for sports betting to be legalized in California’s racetracks and tribal casinos

The coalition has filed papers highlighting the support of 18 different tribes across the state. The leader of this initiative is the Pechenga Band of Luiseño Mission Indians.

This move arrives only a few months after a sports betting measure was proposed for the 2020 ballot by Assemblyman Adam Gray and Senator Bill Dodd.

While California would be a massive market for sports betting, many thought that the considerable political influence wielded by the tribes would put a stop to it instantly. However, these tribes now appear to be in favor of legalization as long as online betting is not allowed.

Pechenga Chairman Mark Macarro has had his say, stating:

Californians should have the choice to participate in sports wagering at highly regulated, safe and experienced gaming locations.”

Macarro went on to speak about his pride at seeing the various California tribes come together on this matter. 

Papers filed

The papers were filed at the California attorney general’s office on Wednesday by attorneys for the initiative. It requested a summary and title for this measure so that the petition process can begin.

The tribe is proposing a constitutional amendment for the state. This would allow betting on college and professional sports, as well as a limited number of amateur sports. No high school betting markets would be allowed and the tribes want sports betting to be confined to tribal casinos and fully licensed racetracks.

Notable opposition

A significant number of card rooms located in the state have been looking to offer sports betting, so they will certainly be opposed to this proposal.

Speaking about this proposal, Kyle Kirkland, president of the California Gaming Association, said:

We would be disappointed at any initiative that allowed sports betting but that didn’t include card clubs.”

Members of the association will be consulted before any concrete position on the matter is taken. The disagreement between tribal interests and the card rooms has been the stumbling block for the introduction of legal online poker in the state over the past dozen years. 

Details of this proposal

A tax rate of 10% has been proposed for gross sports betting revenues. These tax dollars would be used toward mental health programs, regulatory costs, education, and public safety.

As part of this measure, the tribes are seeking an extension of the existing tribal gaming compact in order to allow tribal casinos to offer roulette and craps. Players would need to be at least 21 years old to participate.

In order for this proposal to make its way onto the November 2020 ballot, it will need to secure 997,139 signatures from registered voters. As there is a lot of political support and money behind these tribes, expectations are that securing these signatures will not be an issue. 

Huge potential

The three biggest markets for sports betting that are untapped in the United States are Florida, Texas, and California. These states have massive populations and many professional sports teams. However, to date, none of these states have given any indication that they will legalize sports betting anytime soon.

The California tribes clearly have seen the great results generated by sports betting to date and want to get a slice of the action.

The California tribes already generate about $8bn each year through their gambling facilities. By adding sports betting, they can attract a whole new type of audience, which would crossover with their existing casino offerings. California has the highest population in the country with over 39.5 million residents.

By only pushing for retail sports betting, it would stop outside sportsbook operators coming in and stealing the majority of the betting handle. In New Jersey, for example, over 85% of all sports bets placed in October came through mobile sportsbooks.