SBC Summit: Sports betting in California depends on respecting and protecting tribal sovereignty

May 9, 2024 6:00 PM
Photo: CDC Gaming Reports
  • Rege Behe, CDC Gaming Reports
May 9, 2024 6:00 PM
  • Rege Behe, CDC Gaming Reports

Frank Sizemore fought hard to prevent the legalization of sports betting in California when he worked for the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. But two years later, Sizemore is now working as vice president of strategic partnership for FanDuel, one of the companies he battled against during the run up to Propositions 26 and 27, voter initiatives that would have legalized sports betting in the state.

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The irony of now working for FanDuel was not lost on him Thursday during the panel “California Dreaming – Is There a Second Show at 26 and 27” at SBC Summit North America at the Meadowlands Expo Center in Secaucus, New Jersey.

“I’m trying to repair our reputation in California,” Sizemore said, acknowledging the well-documented acrimony between tribal operators and sports-betting companies, such as FanDuel and DraftKings, prior to the vote on the propositions in 2022. “Everybody probably knows the background. But also, more broadly in Indian country, we just want to prove that we can be good long-term partners for tribes.”

The panel, hosted by American iGaming Solutions CEO Jason Rosenberg, came to a singular conclusion. The only way sports betting will become a reality is through the express consent of the more than 100 tribes in the state.

Paskenta Chairman Andrew Alejandro said in the past that the sovereignty of tribes, whether via the presence of California’s card rooms or the ill-fated Propositions 26 and 27, has not been respected.

“We have an obligation to our tribal membership to provide resources and opportunities, to protect our membership,” Alejandro said. “Sovereignty is one of the most important things we have and we’re going to do everything we can to protect that. And when someone comes in and tries to set up shop, that’s not going to happen. Tribes are going to be there. We’re going to step up, as we did, and protect ourselves.”

San Manuel Band of Mission Indians Chief Intergovernmental Affairs Officer Daniel Little said it’s often easy to overlook tribal contributions as an economic engine in the state. He pointed out that gaming operations run by tribal operators have filled a gap in California, providing 200,000 direct and indirect jobs and $5 billion in economic output. Any attempts to subvert tribal sovereignty will not be tolerated, according to Little.

“There is a massive benefit to the state,” Little said. “It’s a promise made to California voters based on tribal sovereignty. More important, they’re not going to pack up and move if there’s an economic turn or a better deal in another state. Tribes have been there for thousand and thousands of years and they’re not going anywhere.”

During the recent Indian Gaming Conference and Tradeshow in Anaheim, California, FanDuel CEO Amy Howe admitted that not being able to get voters to pass Propositions 26 and 27 was “a spectacular failure.” Sizemore emphasized that Howe’s admission now permeates FanDuel’s approach to sports betting in California.

“It’s abundantly clear that any legalization goes through the tribes,” Sizemore said, “and what that framework looks like will be dictated by the tribes.”

If sports betting is to be legalized in California, Alejandro stated that sports-betting operators must recognize the diverse nature of the tribes, while the tribes themselves need to hash out any differences among them.

“Everyone has different needs,” Alejandro said. “You have to think about the environments they’re in, where they’re located. If I’m up in the mountains, will brick-and-mortar work for me? Probably not. It’s going to take the tribes to come together and really figure out what’s going to be most beneficial for all of us. Of course, there will be some disagreements, which there were. But we know we need everyone at the table to figure out the best solutions.”

Rege Behe is lead contributor to CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at rbehe@cdcgaming.com. Please follow @RegeBehe_exPTR on Twitter.