California tribal leaders optimistic about public backing of 2022 ballot measure on sports betting

California tribal leaders optimistic about public backing of 2022 ballot measure on sports betting

  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports
July 20, 2021 7:07 PM
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports
  • Other

California tribal leaders sounded confident in their assessment that voters will pass their 2022 ballot measure to bring sports betting to the Golden State. Still, they fear that any competing ballot measure that arises could jeopardize approval.

The leaders, speaking at the Indian Gaming Tradeshow & Convention in Las Vegas, praised the California ballot measure that would bring sports wagering to tribal casinos and to four race tracks across the state. Tribes have an advantage: The California public holds tribal gaming in such high esteem, they said, that it has backed eight of nine ballot measures, starting with the authorization of tribal gaming in 1998.

“The research we’ve done to date says we’re in a very strong position to win, once the voters have the opportunity to vote on this matter,” said Jacob Mejia, vice president of public and external affairs for the Pechanga Development Corp. “We got 1.4 million signatures and that says something. California tribes have a long history with California voters and we won’t put forward anything that’s going to be shot down by voters. We’ve have tracked this, both pre-pandemic and post-pandemic, and feel good about our position. We just did a survey that found almost two-thirds of likely voters are supportive of the tribal measure.”

The only time a tribal ballot measure failed was in 2004 when a competing ballot measure confused voters, Mejia said. Proposition 68 allowed racetracks and card rooms to take away tribal exclusivity and operate slot machines and gaming devices. Some 84% voted against the measure.

Tribal leaders said they fear any competing ballot on sports betting expansion that would allow mobile wagering statewide. Card clubs are among those been pushing to be included in any sports betting expansion.

James Siva, vice chairman of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians and chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, told moderator Stephen Hart, a partner at the law firm Lewis Roca in Phoenix, that he’s worried about a competing ballot measure emerging in 2022, given there’s time to do so through an initiative or through state lawmakers.

“We saw last year the introduction of a bill that was defeated before it got legs, but even now, we’re hearing rumors and whispers of a potential competing bill that would address the mobile issue that’s intentionally not in the tribal initiative. With the time given to the other side, there’s a very good chance we will see a competing bill.”

Tribal leaders said it’s important to protect their exclusive rights and sovereignty.

Mark Macarro, tribal chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Mission Indians, said if the rumor of a competing ballot measure pans out, which is sometimes undertaken to confuse voters, residents are more likely to vote no on both measures — like what happened in 2004.

“If both measures end up losing, that means the status quo will be preserved and frankly, a lot of tribes would be okay with that,” Macarro said. “But that means no sports betting. I don’t know if there have been competing measures on the ballot where both won.”

Mejia said tribes have about 75% public backing, while California card clubs, which have been pushing to be included in any expansion of gambling in the state, have a low rating with the public. He said card clubs have a rating of about 20%, due to anti-money laundering violations and their deceiving of regulators.

Tribes would be harmed by mobile wagering, because federal regulations don’t permit tribes to offer mobile sports betting off their reservations at this time. Tribal leaders said California voters, meanwhile, aren’t supportive of online and mobile betting at this point, because of concerns over underage and problem gambling.

Macarro said voters have been in favor of only incremental changes in California gaming. He said their ballot measure protects the land-based casinos in which the tribes have made large investments, while voters believe mobile wagering “is a bridge too far. (Voters) are willing to have sports betting in locations throughout the states. … Tribes have been careful in California not to overreach.”

The ballot measure also allows tribal casinos to offer live crap and roulette table games.