Group continues push for 2024 ballot measure to approve California sports betting

December 5, 2023 9:01 PM
Photo: Shutterstock
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports
December 5, 2023 9:01 PM
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports

A group pushing to bring another sports-wagering ballot measure to California voters is moving ahead with those plans, despite opposition from California tribal leaders.

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Eagle1 Acquisitions Corp. LLC, backers of the proposition to bring legalized sports wagering to California, has submitted amendments to its Sports Wagering Regulation and Tribal Gaming Protection Act to the state’s Attorney General Rob Bonta. Their plan is to take the issue to voters in 2024.

The group said the amendments are based on feedback Eagle1 received from tribal leadership, out-of-state operators, other stakeholders, and regulators. The changes are part of an effort to make the proposition more appealing and beneficial to California tribes.

The group’s efforts have already been dismissed ahead of this latest change by members of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, who recently met with them.

In November 2022, California voters, after hundreds of millions of dollars spent on advertising, soundly rejected competing measures to bring sports betting to California, one backed by tribes involving in-person wagering at tribal casinos and horse tracks and a second pushed by commercial out-of-state operators seeking to enable online wagering.

Victor Rocha, a member of the Pechanga Band of Indians in southern California and conference chairman of the Indian Gaming Association, said Tuesday he doesn’t understand this continued push that will only fail, because it’s not backed by voters based on polling. He said he would be surprised if any measures make it to the ballot.

“These guys only hear what they want to hear,” Rocha said. “They’re looking to divide the tribes and give more money to the non-gaming tribes and parade them in front of the camera and say, ‘Look how we’re helping these poor Indians.’ We’ve seen that before and it doesn’t work.”

Rocha hosted a webinar on Nov. 22 with CNIGA Chairman James Siva who talked about his group’s strong stance against the initiatives. It would require about 900,000 signatures to be put on the ballot. “It’s a zombie,” Rocha said. “The only question is when it will fail.”

The latest proposal is pushed by Kasey Thompson and Reeve Collins, co-founders of Pala Interactive that has since been sold to Boyd Gaming.

In a new release issued Tuesday, the group said their initiatives will regulate the unregulated gaming market, put 100% control of online and in-person California sports betting in the hands of tribes, and “provide a fair and competitive sports betting environment for Californians.” California has the potential to be the largest legalized sports betting market in the country with an estimated $60 billion in wagers and revenue of $3 billion annually, the group said.

“We took a proposal that had the support of more than 70 tribes and was one of the most tribal-focused propositions ever, made amendments based on tribal and regulator feedback, and updated it for today’s legal landscape,” said Kasey Thompson, partner in Eagle1 Acquisitions and an architect of the proposition, in a statement. “What we’re trying to do is create something that works for everyone. Tribal support is paramount to the success of this effort and we will not put it on the ballot without approval from a majority of the tribes.”

Eagle1 partner Reeve Collins said they removed language they were told didn’t work for the tribes and have created something inclusive for everyone – the tribes, land-based casinos, regulators, out-of-state operators, and Californians.

“This is a forward-thinking and tribal-centric proposition that finally paves the way for sports betting in California,” Collins said in a statement.

The tribes won’t have to provide any financial backing to support the passage of the proposition with Eagle1 bearing the cost, including the signature campaign at a cost of approximately $25 million and the public vote campaign, which will cost several hundred million dollars, the group said.

Under the proposal, the group said tribes receiving about $1 million annually under current conditions can receive an estimated 15-20 times more annually under the proposition. An in-person registration for those outside of a 10-mile radius from a casino requirement for online gaming removed after two years.