Could California Tribes Team Up With Commercial Operators to Get Betting Over the Line?

  • California tribes will try to get retail sports betting on the ballot in 2026
  • Tribes fought against commercial operators over sports betting in 2022
  • However, the enemies both opposed a recent betting push from another source
  • Moving forward, the best path could be for tribes and operators to team up
Two hands with jigsaw pieces
For sports betting legislation to pass in California, tribes and commercial operators might have to form an unexpected alliance. [Image:]

One more go

Betting backers in California have tried, tried, and tried again to get sports betting over the legislative line without any success so far. This has left the US’s most populated state on the sidelines as much of the rest of the nation reaps the benefits of the expanding market.

Now, California tribal leader Victor Rocha has shared some insight into new legislative efforts that will please betting backers. The Indian Gaming Association (IGA) Conference Chair told Compliance+More that retail betting will be back on the ballot in California in 2026, with online betting to follow in 2028 if all goes to plan.

Speaking with the news site, he said:

The tribes that matter, the politically active ones who have put money into this, are united on that approach.”

However, the tribes failed to generate the necessary public support when they got their last sports betting proposition on the ballot in November 2022. This is at least partly because they went up against a commercial betting initiative. This time around, could they change tactic and make an unexpected alliance with their former enemies to get betting over the line?

The battle of 2022

To provide some background on this issue, it’s important to look at what transpired in 2022 when the tribes and commercial operators last tried to pass sports betting proposals. The tribes’ Proposition 26 would have legalized only tribal betting, while the commercial operators’ Proposition 27 would have opened the door to gambling giants, like FanDuel and DraftKings.

The battle between the two was intense. Ads released by the commercial operators went down particularly badly with the tribes, who claimed that they where “shameful, despicable.” One particular ad featured two leading tribal figures backdropped against tribal casinos, suggesting that Prop 27 would benefit the tribes – a claim the tribes said was a lie.

VegasSlotsOnline News spoke with Kathy Fairbanks of the No on 27 group in August 2022. She claimed that betting controlled by commercial operators would see all of the profits leave the state.

After the two groups raised a record $600m in competing efforts to push their proposals, they both failed to get the necessary public support in November, despite getting the signatures to make it to the ballot. Prop 26 performed slightly better with 33% voting Yes, while the commercial alternative had an 18% Yes vote.

A newfound alliance

While they might have locked heads in 2022, the tribes and commercial operators recently found something they could agree on. It came courtesy of ambitious gaming industry veteran Kasey Thompson and blockchain entrepreneur Reeve Collins, who together thought they had what it took to succeed where so many others had failed.

Thompson and Collins began a new sports betting push at the end of 2023, hoping to pass an initiative that would give exclusivity to tribes for retail and online sports betting. They hoped to get the necessary 874,641 signatures to get their proposal on the November 2024 ballot, but they met a lot of opposition.

IGA Chairman Rocha was particularly scaving in his criticism of the pair

Perhaps surprisingly given the tribe-focused stance of the proposal, the tribes were not impressed. IGA Chairman Rocha was particularly scaving in his criticism of the pair, deeming them a “special kind of stupid.” The tribal leader said the “moronic” duo had not even met with tribes to discuss the proposal and would be “curb stomped.”

The Sports Betting Alliance, a coalition of commercial operators seeking legal betting in California, also opposed the proposal. Outlining the reasons for their opposition, they said that the plan did not have the support of the tribes, meaning it had no chance of success and could set back legalization efforts.

Facing so much opposition, Thompson and Collins dropped their proposal in January. It seems the tribes and sportsbook operators were finally on the same page.

Moving forward

Speaking this week, Rocha made it clear that the tribes are willing to wait longer than 2026 if needs be to get betting over the line. “The tribes can wait longer than that,” he explained. “We know how important this is. It is not just about us. It is about ensuring our tribes’ futures.”

But is there any hope that the tribes can actually get betting passed, whether they wait two years or 20?

Perhaps without the commercial opposition of 2022 the tribes could see more success, but they were still lacking 17% which isn’t a small mountain to climb. It is also likely that the Sports Betting Alliance will ensure they provide an opposing Proposition in any year the tribes go for their push, to make sure they don’t get cut out of what could be the most profitable market in the US.

they have already shown that they can get the job done when working together

If they really want California sports betting in this century, both the tribes and operators may have to open up a constructive dialogue. In opposing the sports betting initiative this year, they have already shown that they can get the job done when working together.

Notably, if the tribes and sports betting operators combined their Yes votes in 2022 they would have secured 51% – just what they need to finally get Californians betting.

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