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Tribal Opposition Makes California Sports Betting Fail: How Long Will the Wait Be?

Jessica Aletor
Written by Jessica Aletor
January 29, 2024
Tribal Opposition Makes California Sports Betting Fail

It’s going to be another two years without a legal sports betting option in California as the entrepreneurs pushing for the initiative face a major obstacle. One of the major drivers of the initiative has told the public that it is only causing division, so he is backing down.

BLOCKv CEO Reeve Collins and casino veteran Kasey Thompson were the parties pushing the initiative to make California legalize sports betting. If the initiative were adopted, California would take sports betting revenue from the offshore platforms and put it in the hands of the tribes.

The state would also get tax revenue from sports betting activities carried out by the operators using the tribes’ licenses. On the surface, this appears to be a deal that the California tribes should eagerly jump on because it will give them a monopoly over an untapped market to boost their income.

However, in reality, the same tribes that the initiative was supposedly meant to benefit had to oppose it till it was dropped.

Tribes Were Not Properly Consulted in California

When news of the California Sports Betting Initiative became public, its spokesperson, Kasey Thompson, told the public that he would not proceed without support from the majority of the tribes. Over time, the initiative also claimed to have the silent support of the major tribes.

However, it eventually became clear that the initiative did not have much support because the tribes that spoke on the matter only opposed it. Though tribal opposition to the initiative increased, its proponents kept pushing it forward.

James Siva, the Chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, said that the big mistake that Thompson made was introducing the initiative without getting support from the tribes first.

Seeking their support after introducing the initiative made him put them in a backs-against-the-wall situation. The tribes are always looking to protect their sovereignty, so they couldn’t agree to the position Thompson and Reeves put them in.

Furthermore, the initiative proposed that the assets of the offshore gaming options currently in California should be transferred to the tribes once sports betting is legalized. The tribal leaders were concerned this proposition intended to abuse their good reputation with the public by using them to clean the illegal apps.

No Unanimous Opposition of the Initiative From the Tribes

Initially, it appeared like the initiative had no support from the Native American tribes because the tribes that Thompson claimed supported him refused to do so publicly. The California Nations Indian Gaming Association held a vote to prove their unanimity in opposing the initiative.

The voice vote had 37 tribes in attendance, and no one opposed CNIGA’s stance against the initiative. However, this led the initiative's proponents to make some amendments. One of the new additions included an increase in the percentage that Revenue Sharing Trust Fund tribes were going to get from operator revenue to 25%.

This amendment made the initiative a lot more attractive to RSTF tribes. Four tribes, the Karuk tribe, Blue Lake Rancheria, Cahuilla Band of Indians, and Chicken Ranch Rancheria, publicly supported the initiative because it would support some of California’s poorest communities.

Even with the support from these few tribes, the prospects of the initiative were still dim because of the financial power the other tribes had to ensure it failed if it reached a public election. Kasey Thompson and his associates saw the terrible odds the initiative had and decided to pull the plug on their program.

What’s Next for Sports Betting in California?

Unless California state legislators push for a ballot referendum, the issue of legalizing sports betting will not come up again until 2026. To be successful this time, it seems it will have to be sponsored by the tribes themselves.

Although the tribes are eager to take control of the sports betting industry in California, they are not in a hurry. They want to make the deal on their own terms and not in a way that will threaten their sovereignty.

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