Coalition of Tribes Propose Sports Betting Initiative in California 

Illegal sports wagering in the United States currently totals $150 billion annually. Tribes in California support a measure for the state to legalize sports betting and access a substantial piece of that revenue. Pictured: Pechanga Resort Casino

Previously, Tribal groups in California, influential to the Legislature, opposed bills that would legalize sports betting on the grounds that those proposals would infringe on their exclusive gaming compacts with the state.

But now, an initiative is on the table and supported by the California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA).

Betting on professional, college and some amateur sports — the Los Angeles Lakers and Rams games included — would be legal in California under the initiative proposed Wednesday by CNIGA. 

The statewide ballot referendum would permit sports betting at casinos and racetracks. Mobile or online betting were not mentioned. The initiative includes a 10% tax on gross gaming revenue derived from sports wagering. 

“Californians should have the choice to participate in sports wagering at highly regulated, safe and experienced gaming locations,” Mark Macarro, Chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, said in a statement. “We are very proud to see Tribes from across California come together for this effort, which represents an incremental but important step toward giving Californians the freedom to participate in this new activity in a responsible manner.”

Steve Stallings, Chairman of CNIGA said: “The Tribally sponsored initiative … to amend the California Constitution to authorize and regulate sports wagering is the best example of well-written and responsible sports betting policy presented to date. This initiative provides for a modest expansion of gambling in California by allowing tribal governments and currently licensed horse racing associations to accept wagers on sports and athletic events at their gaming properties. A strong, well-regulated gaming industry is of utmost importance to California’s tribal governments and the public. This initiative allows sports wagering in a responsible manner and provides for transparency and strict regulation. California voters have, on numerous occasions, confirmed the exclusive right of California tribal governments to operate casino-style games. Legalization of sports betting should not become a back-door way to infringe upon that exclusivity.” 

Tribal Chairman Anthony Roberts of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation added: “We have historically been opposed to the expansion of gaming in California beyond the current scope. This initiative represents a viable and measured path that provides Californians with the opportunity to wager on sports in a manner that is responsible and provides for real enforcement penalties for unlawful gambling in the state.”

Tribal Chairman Cody Martinez of the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation noted: “The well-designed measure ensures responsible sports wagering by introducing important safeguards that protect consumers.”

Other Tribal supporters include the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, the Barona Band of Mission Indians, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians and the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians.

CNIGA is a non-profit association comprised of 35 federally recognized Tribal governments dedicated to the protection of Tribal sovereignty and the inherent right of Tribes to have well-regulated gaming on Indian lands.

California is home to 69 Tribal casinos — more than any other state. Tribal government gaming operations in California generate an estimated $8 billion in economic output, of which $3.3 billion represents earnings by California workers, and supports over 63,000 jobs statewide. 

The proposal was filed Wednesday with the state attorney general’s office. Next steps would entail circulating petitions to qualify the measure.

California may join a national wave of more than 30 states that have either have legalized sports betting or are currently considering it after the U.S. Supreme Court, in May 2018, overturned the 1992 federal law — the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act — that banned commercial sports betting and thus prohibited states outside of Nevada from authorizing sports wagering. 

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