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Mascot Swinging Friar of the San Diego Padres on the field as we look at the state of the legal sports betting scene in California.
Mascot Swinging Friar of the San Diego Padres on the field prior to game one of the National League Championship Series against the Philadelphia Phillies at PETCO Park on October 18, 2022 in San Diego, California. Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images via AFP.

Two new efforts to kickstart the creation of a California legal sports betting industry suffered a similar fate to a few others before it last week. They were unanimously voted down by the  California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA), meaning it will be a bit longer before residents can find our best sports betting apps.

The first job of any gambling initiative in the Golden State should be to impress those with a state monopoly over the gambling industry, the state’s Native American tribes. In this case, the two proposals didn’t move the ball toward a launch of legal California sports betting and may have set it back a step or two. 

"The entire effort surrounding these initiatives was handled abhorrently by the initiative sponsors," said CNIGA Chairman James Siva. "It is hard not to be offended when listening to these individuals speak. This is another example of outside influences trying to divide and conquer Indian tribes. We will not let history repeat itself."

More on the two proposals

The "Tribal Gaming Protection Act" and "Sports Wagering Regulation and Tribal Gaming Protection Act" were filed with California's attorney general in late October as the latest attempt to get the ball rolling on a California legal sports betting platform. It was brought by non-tribal proponents of the two initiatives and headed by Kasey Thompson and Reeve Collins.

The problem? Fifty-two members of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association came out unanimously in opposition to the sports wagering initiatives.

While the two initiatives still kept the California Nations wagering exclusivity with the tribes and kept non-tribal operators from doing business in California, tribal entities were not only omitted from the creation of the plans but didn't even know about them before their release.

The staunch opposition to the two recent proposals is the latest sign that California tribes will need to be consulted about any legal sports betting plan for the state and that they will not tolerate any disregard for their state compact and ultimate control over any legal sports betting industry in the Golden State.

Irreparable harm done?

California tribes have never been against a partnership arrangement with others for a legal sports betting platform in their state. The California Nations Indian Gaming Association has never fought collaboration.

In this instance, the way the proposals were brought forward, without tribal consultation, is at the root of the Nations' dissatisfaction with the initiatives.

Not only could the actions of Kasey Thompson and Reeve Collins in not consulting the tribal entities, (which once again hold all of the power for the expansion of the California legal gambling industry), but they could also lead to further scrutiny for any other proposal going forward.

Comments by Chairman James Siva suggest that any lack of consultation will not be tolerated going forward. He said: “California tribes have been successfully engaged in the gaming market for more than four decades. This didn’t happen by mistake, nor without careful consideration on the effects to our members and our surrounding communities. Tribal Leaders are the experts, and we will decide what is best for our people. Now that the sponsors have heard directly from tribes that their efforts are not supported, we call on them to drop the initiatives as they have pledged to do if tribes were to oppose them. Our opposition could not be more clear and is irrevocable.”

What's next?

Through the controversy has come a little clarity on where Tribal sports betting in California stands. We learned that there will likely be a retail platform at tribal casinos launched long before mobile sports betting goes live in the Golden State. That likely won’t be for some time, however.

For now, the two initiatives proposed last month, which left out tribal consultation, are dead on arrival — there is little or no chance upon which they are acted upon.

It means that the initiatives, as they are proposed, will, in all likelihood, not appear on the 2024 election ballot and that we are essentially back to square one with regard to legal sports betting in California.

Ballot measures must gain nearly a million signatures and be submitted within the next four months to qualify for the 2024 general election ballot. Unless something drastic happens, any proposal and signature gathering is facing a serious time crunch to get before voters in 2024.

It also means that 2025 could be a realistic timeframe for California to join the U.S. legal sports betting family.