California Tribal Casinos Backed Off Online Betting Initiative But Retail Proposal Remains

Written By Derek Helling on May 20, 2022Last Updated on June 30, 2022
Measure Difference For California Tribal Sports Betting Ballot

Yes, a California tribal sports betting initiative for online wagering is dead for this year. That doesn’t affect the tribal casino operators’ retail sports betting proposal, though.

Voters in the Golden State will still decide the fate of that proposal this fall. It’s important to understand the difference between the “defunct” online proposal and the one that California tribal casinos will still push for in November.

California tribal sports betting initiatives follow diverse paths

Earlier this year, California tribal casinos were pushing two distinct petitions in an attempt to qualify both for this fall’s statewide elections. Each measure governed a different aspect of legal sports betting in the state.

One governed online wagering. It would have given tribal casinos in the state control of online sports betting. While it wouldn’t have necessarily meant that online sportsbook operators like Bally Bet and BetMGM couldn’t have ever entered th
e state, the casinos would have dictated the terms of such entry.

The other initiative is the Tribal Sports Wagering Act. It governs retail California sports betting and throws in an element of tightening casinos’ exclusivity for casino gaming.

The TSWA makes no provisions for online betting but puts tribal casinos in control of in-person wagering on sports in the state. Additionally, it would give tribal casinos room to sue cardroom operators in California for what the casinos perceive as violations of their exclusivity.

That measure has already qualified for this fall’s ballot. The online initiative, however, is getting put on the back burner. It’s a strategic move by the casinos.

California casinos shifting resources to set up for 2024

Earlier this month, the three tribal groups behind the online measure decided to punt for this election cycle. Matt Kredell of sister site PlayCA reported the tribes spun the decision as a way to improve the measure’s chances of success for 2024.

It makes sense considering the context. For one thing, tribal casinos in California aren’t a monolith. While they certainly share several interests, they are also competitors to an extent. Not all tribal casinos may have been behind this online measure.

Punting to 2024 gives them more time to elicit uniform support. Additionally, the messaging this fall from California tribal interests could malign all online wagering, not just online wagering that doesn’t happen under the auspices of a tribal group.

Separating commercial online betting from tribal online betting in the minds of voters might have proven difficult. That’s a pertinent issue as online betting will likely still be an issue that voters decide on this fall.

California commercial operators trying to enter market

Last month, a coalition funded by several online sportsbook operators submitted a petition for a ballot measure of their own, the California Solutions to Homelessness & Mental Health Support Act. It’s likely to qualify for this fall’s election.

It legalizes online sports betting but doesn’t address retail wagering. It involves the tribal casinos by requiring online sportsbooks to partner with them. However, the measure doesn’t afford tribal groups the amount of control they prefer.

That’s why in addition to pushing for ratification of the TSWA, tribal casinos plan to oppose the Homelessness Act. In the context of a tribal plan for online wagering in 2024, it’s part of playing a long game.

If the Homelessness Act becomes law, it could complicate creating a regulated system for online wagering the tribes would control. Essentially, a tribal initiative in 2024 would have to repeal the provisions of the Homelessness Act.

If online sportsbooks launch in California before the 2024 election, that could be akin to trying to put the toothpaste back into a tube. Should voters reject the Homelessness Act, though, things set up nicely for 2024.

The potential dream scenario for tribal operators

As tribal casinos push for the approval of the TSBA this fall, that could fit into the plans for 2024. They would already have a stranglehold on retail wagering and time to plan for expansion.

They could then focus on pushing for similar approval of online wagering but under their auspices. Operators like DraftKings and FanDuel who want to accept bets from Californians online would have to meet their asking prices.

Pivotal to that scenario playing out is the defeat of the Homelessness Act this year and the approval of the TSBA this year, though. That’s why focusing efforts on those goals was worth delaying a tribal mobile proposal.

Californians should note that there is still a tribal sports betting measure on the 2022 ballot, though. It just only covers retail wagering and card games.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is the assistant managing editor of Playin USA. Helling focuses on breaking news, including legislation and litigation in the gaming industry. He enjoys reading hundreds of pages of a gambling bill or lawsuit for his audience. Helling completed his journalism degree at the University of Iowa.

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