NIGA Tradeshow keynote: Sports betting a small part of the overall picture

July 20, 2021 5:44 PM
  • Rege Behe, CDC Gaming Reports
July 20, 2021 5:44 PM
  • Rege Behe, CDC Gaming Reports

W. Ron Allen, Tribal Chairman of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, acknowledges that sports betting is one of the most talked about and anticipated trends in tribal gaming. He’s cognizant that attendees to the Indian Gaming Tradeshow are excited about a new opportunity to expand gaming operations.

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But Allen’s keynote speech Monday at the NIGA Conference in Las Vegas, “Tribal Sovereignty and Sports Betting: Can They Coexist?”, emphasized that sports betting will be a very small segment of most tribal gaming operations.

“Yes, sports betting will be big at some of the bigger properties,” he told a packed conference room at Caesars Forum Convention Center. “But many of our properties are small. … For us in Washington state, it’s less than one percent of our total operations.”

Allen’s passionate speech kicked off four days of sessions, vendor exhibitions, and other activities at the tradeshow and convention, which was canceled last year during the height of the pandemic. This year’s conference in Las Vegas is a celebration of how tribal communities were able not only to survive casino closures, but also thrive in the aftermath of COVID.

Allen estimates tribal gaming is a $30 billion industry, “and that’s why the industry here in Vegas has high interest in us,” Allen says. “All of a sudden, they became our best buddies. Of course, they are. Everyone is there to help us if there’s a profit.”

Money generated from sports betting and other gaming interests should go to daycare, schools, health clinics, and other initiatives that benefit tribes. But increasingly, tribal sports betting is attracting some operators that Allen thinks do not have the best interests of tribes in mind.

“The money we generate in the industry stays in our backyard,” he said. “That’s our message and we have to keep saying that. When you have large corporations come in, that profit does not stay in the backyard. That profit goes wherever the corporate shareholders are.”

Later, Allen described how some mini-card rooms in Washington state are being bought up by corporations “on the come.” Often, these companies will try to influence legislators, saying that gaming wealth needs to be spread around. “And once you open it up, how many venues will you have?” Allen asked.

In response, Allen says he and other tribes are engaged in public-relations campaigns to let the public know that “they’re corporate and not tribal and we’re a government,” and that “corporate America will take those profits out of the area.”

Allen also says it’s important for tribal operators to be the primary regulator of gaming at their properties. The state’s role is to approve licenses, he thinks, and get out of the way.

Whether it’s sports betting or gaming, there’s growth in both revenue and care for tribal citizens if tribes are allowed to control their operations.

“Self-reliance, and self-government as we move forward, is our agenda,” Allen said. “And sports betting is just a piece of that solution.”