Igaming Focus: Refreshed federal regulations bolster tribal gaming sovereignty

March 7, 2024 8:00 AM
  • Hannah Gannagé-Stewart, CDC Gaming Reports
March 7, 2024 8:00 AM
  • Hannah Gannagé-Stewart, CDC Gaming Reports

With tribal nations determined to defend the sovereignty of their gaming compacts, updated federal regulations regarding Class III Indian gaming agreements are likely to prompt even steelier resolve.  

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On February 16, the Department of the Interior (DOI) refreshed the regulations in a bid to create “a more transparent and orderly process” by which tribes can negotiate compacts with states. 

The changes are intended to bolster tribal sovereignty and prevent non-gaming related issues bleeding into the compact negotiation process with states.  

In what could be a game-changer for remote gambling in the US, the overhaul to 25 C.F.R. Part 293 also offered tribes clarity over their right to negotiate permission to offer state-wide remote gaming as part of their compacts. 

Future compact negotiations may follow the example of the Seminole Tribe in Florida, for example, where the agreement enables them to route bets placed outside of Indian land through tribal servers, giving them a monopoly on both retail and digital sports betting in the state. 

In a statement announcing the changes, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland said: “The federal government has treaty and trust responsibilities to Tribal Nations. A key part of that is our obligation to support Tribal Nations as they work to revitalize communities by opening businesses and creating jobs that strengthen their economic self-sufficiency.” 

This may be true, but the fact is that securing the future of tribal gaming also protects a multi-billion-dollar tax revenue generating industry across the states.  

Addressing the 2024 Western Indian Gaming Conference on February 20, vice chairman of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians and chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA) James Siva reminded listeners that tribes do not just generate revenue for tribes. 

In fact, Siva cited tribal gaming operations across California as generating $2.2bn in tax revenue in 2021, of which state and local governments received $1.1bn for social programs, public safety and infrastructure. 

CNIGA is the largest regional gaming association in the U.S., comprising 52 tribal governments and as such wields enormous influence over the way in which any future state-wide gambling legislation may be enacted in California. 

Siva’s speech reminded commercial operators of their expensive defeat at the Californian ballot boxes in November 2022, reiterating that there will be no expansion of Californian gaming without the express go-ahead from the tribes. 

“Tribes will not be ignored or dictated to”, he said. “Decisions driving the future of tribal governments will be made by tribal governments, not outsiders who think they know what is best for tribes. To be crystal clear, any discussion or decision on the expansion of gaming in California begins and ends with tribes.” 

He was also clear that the tribes are not in the business of shutting down expansion for the sake of it. They want to see some level of expansion, but on their terms. “Though consensus is difficult, I believe we can attain it,” he said.  

Those words will be music to the ears of more pragmatic operators quietly getting their ducks in a row as momentum builds towards some sort of agreement. For those who naively still believe that their commercial heft will outweigh the determination of the tribes, these words are likely to be somewhat clawing. 

Meanwhile, former National Indian Gaming Commission chairman E. Sequoyah Simermeyer became the third executive with a tribal gaming background to join FanDuel in six months.  

The sports betting giant has been at the helm of several failed attempts to legalise online sports wagering in California and last month was even moved to apologise to Californian tribes for its “uninformed and misguided” efforts. 

Simermeyer will take on the role of vice president for strategic partnerships at FanDuel, the same job title belonging to former San Manuel Band of Mission Indians COO Rikki Tanenbaum and former San Manuel vice president of operations Frank Sizemore. 

The hires were welcomed by Siva, who told Sports Handle he thought it was a positive step forward. “This is the first time that any of these companies are looking to work with Indian Country”, he said. 

There is unlikely to be any definitive movement on Californian gaming until next year, but in the meantime the pre-emptive manoeuvring looks set to continue.