Sportsbook at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas (By Prayitno, Flickr/Creative Commons, no changes made, https://tinyurl.com/ycqvbp4k)
The Sports Wagering Market Integrity Act of 2018 (SWMIA), a new bipartisan bill, aims to put the federal government in control of sports betting across the nation once again, following the repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PAPSA) earlier this year.
The 101-page Act does state: “Nothing in this Act preempts or limits the authority of a State or an Indian Tribe to enact, adopt, promulgate, or enforce any law, rule, regulation, or other measure with respect to sports wagering that is in addition to, or more stringent than, the requirements of this Act.”
Still, a uniform, nationwide set of rules for sports betting raises eyebrows across Indian Country. “If there’s a federal level of regulation that can come into the picture, [then] how do you as tribal leaders address that question about relegating some of your sovereign authority to a federal framework?” posited NIGA chief of staff Debbie Thundercloud (Oneida Nation of Wisconsin), according to casino-review.com.
Questions surrounding sports betting legality have been batted around aggressively since May 14, 2018, when New Jersey won a landmark Supreme Court ruling in which justices declared PAPSA unconstitutional. Congress originally passed PAPSA in 1992, a quarter century ago, effectively outlawing sports betting nationwide excluding a few states. The May ruling opened doors for states to legalize betting on college and professional sports.
Indian Country didn’t waste any time. On August 30, Pearl River Resort Casino, owned by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians in Choctaw, Mississippi, became the first tribal casino to offer sports betting outside of Nevada.
And while New Mexico has not adopted sports betting legislation, the Tamaya Nation leveraged its tribal gaming compact to start taking sports bets in October at Santa Ana Star Casino & Hotel. The sportsbook only offers on-site, land-based betting.
The new federal bill introduced Wednesday, December 19 by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)—SWMIA—would allow the U.S. Justice Department to set minimum standards for states to offer sports betting.
The National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) has yet to comment publicly about SWMIA and its potential impact on tribal nations. On May 15, a day following the overturn of PAPSA, NIGC issued the following statement concerning its oversight of sports betting: “As Federal and State Governments consider how to address sports betting in light of yesterday’s [May 14, 2018] decision, we anticipate that Tribes will be given a seat at the table to voice their positions, bring their perspectives and collective expertise, and maintain regulatory and operational control over all the gaming that occurs on their lands.”
Eight states already offer sports betting—Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware, West Virginia, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. On Tuesday, December 18, the District of Columbia Council voted to legalize sports betting for residents and visitors, reported the Washington Post. Congressional approval is pending.
Those eight states and the nation’s capital could continue to offer sports betting while the Justice Department evaluates state laws, the Associated Press reported. But the states, including Nevada, would not be exempt from complying with the federal standards. During new legislative sessions in 2019, many states are expected to put sports betting on the discussion table as a way to generate millions in revenue.
If SWMIA gets the greenlight, it would not automatically grant the sports leagues the “integrity fees”—or percentage or betting revenue—that they’re actively seeking, but it wouldn’t prohibit them, either, according to the AP. Executives of both the National Football League (NFL) and Major League Baseball (MLB) issued individual letters to senators demonstrating support for the bill and its “nationwide integrity standards.” Meanwhile, the PGA Tour advocated for the establishment of a national body to oversee the integrity of sports betting. The bill does include the establishment of a National Sports Wagering Clearinghouse to monitor for suspicious transactions.
The ability of Indian nations and tribes to offer sports betting and the continued growth of tribal gaming will be primary topics when the Committee on Casinos meets at the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States (NCLGS) Winter Meeting, January 4-6, 2019, in New Orleans. Several gaming leaders across Indian Country will weigh in at the Winter Meeting, including: Kenneth George Jr., Chairman of the Forest County Potawatomi Gaming Commission; Dan Little, Vice President of Government Relations for Aristocrat and the former NIGC Commissioner; Sheila Morago, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association; and Valerie Spicer, Founding Partner of Trilogy Group.
NFL-casino partnerships are currently underway, as the league updated other regulations (not pertaining to sports betting) following the overthrow of PAPSA. The NFL now allows teams and casinos to partner and to use the NFL trademarks in casinos and in advertising. The Chickasaw Nation-owned WinStar World Casino, located in Thackerville, Oklahoma, became the “Official Casino of the Cowboys,” Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones announced on September 6. Roughly a week after Jones’ announcement, representatives from the Seattle Seahawks called Brian Decorah, CEO of the Snoqualmie Casino, to inquire about the casino’s interest in discussing a partnership. The Snoqualmie Casino and the Seattle Seahawks partnership marks the seventh of its kind in the country.