California Screaming

Sports betting in California is a hot potato with several interested parties attempting to legalize it. The 107 tribes of the state want to control it as they control all Class III gaming, but others have different ideas. Richard Schuetz offers some context to the battle.

California Screaming

“When asked by an anthropologist what the Indians called America before the white man came, an Indian said simply ‘Ours.’”—Vin Deloria, Jr.

Anyone possessing the most rudimentary understanding of legal sports betting should understand that California is the prize in the United States. California has a population approaching 40 million inhabitants and is the most frequented U.S. state tourist destination. California has the 5th largest gross domestic product in the world, out-pacing both the U.K. and India, and leads the United States in a great many other categories.

California is also closer than ever to being able to legally offer sports wagering within the state thanks to a ballot initiative orchestrated by 18 California tribes that I believe will be on the California ballot on November 8th, 2022. The name of the ballot measure to be voted upon is: “California Sports Wagering Regulation and Unlawful Gambling Enforcement Act.” In essence this measure will allow for retail sports wagering at tribal casinos and “approved” horse racing tracks. As an aside, there are 109 federally recognized tribal nations in the state with just less than 70 compacted casino operations.

I have a bit of interest in this whole topic for a variety of reasons. I was born in California and feel that attachment. I have worked in and around casinos since 1972 and part of that time was as an executive with supervisory control over several sports books, including the legendary Stardust Race & Sports Book in Las Vegas. I also was a member of the California Gambling Control Commission as well as serving as the iGaming consultant to the California governor’s office. And, I have served as the iGaming consultant to the California Senate Government Organization Committee. The point is, having sports wagering in California intrigues and interests me.

I was recently wandering about the Internet and thought I would drift over to the California Secretary of State website. I dropped the name “DraftKings” into the search box for lobbying and was directed to a firm that had declared the company as a client. I then undertook a search of that firm to determine who else it listed as clients and found this firm not only had DraftKings as a client, but they also had FanDuel as a client and, lo and behold, I noted they also had BetMGM as a client. Imagine my surprise at seeing three of the largest firms operating in the US internet betting space, all supposedly fierce competitors, working with the same lobbyist in the state of California.

I also caught my attention this firm had Major League Baseball as a client, as well as the National Basketball Association and the PGA Tour. Suddenly, this no longer looked like a coincidence. More particularly, it seemed to me that all these entities would probably not like to see the tribal initiative passed, and they would not like to see it passed because it is for a retail application and many of the folks who seem to be under the umbrella of this lobbyist would probably want to see sports betting offered through the internet.

I looked into this lobbying firm a little bit more and found it interesting that this firm is not just a lobbying firm, per se, but that its services include also specializing in ballot initiatives and campaigns.

I considered that the firms and institutions working with this lobbyist may all possess some degree of white guilt associated with the many years of attempted genocide of tribal people and that they had gathered within this lobbying firm to help support the tribal sports wagering initiative. This group would clearly understand that if the tribal initiative passes that the benefits would generally flow to the tribes within the state and their surrounding communities, rather than to out-of-state and foreign interests. The more I thought about this, however, the more I guessed I was probably off-base here.

I now think this lobbying firm will try to shape California with a sports betting future that is not necessarily embraced by the tribes. The problem here, as I see it, is if this firm helps secure the ability for operators within the state to offer an internet delivery system for sport betting, this becomes a bit of a problem because sports betting is not where the big money is made in internet gaming. No, the big money is in the internet delivery of casino games and so if this lobbyist were to push for internet sports betting for its clients, these clients would also then want internet gaming to apply to a wide array of casino games.

I believe there are many of us with experience within the tribal gaming scene in California who understand that allowing for the offering of casino games over the internet in California would be materially disruptive to the tribal nations of the state. In fact, it could even be a disaster for the tribes.

This is just a guess, but I believe this lobbying firm will be working to nudge the tribal sports betting initiative away from being listed on the upcoming recall ballot and try to move it to the 2022 November ballot (where it probably belongs). This will give everybody time to figure out what is the best course of action, for if this firm wants to assist in launching a ballot initiative, such as allowing for the internet delivery for sports betting, or more, these things take time. I also believe there is going to be a ridiculous amount of money spent on this whole California sports betting thing and it appears to have started, noting some of the firms associated with this lobbyist really know how to burn cash.

I even think it is possible to envision sports stars and/or the leagues working in conjunction with out-of-state gaming operators to convince the people of the state that the solution they propose is much better than the tribal solution. But who knows?

With respect to the gaming companies, there is nothing in the composition of these entities that would cause one to think that they care the least about an oppressed minority such as the tribes. I would guess they would be fine with crushing them like a bug if it puts money in their pockets. I also sense the leagues would be fine with this, for they have often insulted and demeaned the tribes using what some consider racist and insulting nicknames and mascots. And while the leagues do employ a great many people of color, the ownership is, by and large, male and pale.

Whatever the course of action, I do hope any campaigns that run contrary to the tribes’ initiative do not offer the disgusting and inappropriate type of campaigns that generally owed their existence to Nevada entities surrounding the Proposition 5 and Proposition 1A measures in California, dating back to 1998 and 2000 respectively. The racist and degrading overtones of those campaigns against the California tribal nations was an embarrassment to all who live within California and degraded the brand of the Nevada casino interests. It also damaged the brand and image of gambling and all that rely on it.

Let us all hope that those generally male and pale out-of-state interests who want to shape California’s gambling policy can aspire to a higher standard and avoid the racist and demeaning nonsense that has characterized these types of efforts of the past.

As Martin Luther King, Jr., stated: “The time is always right to do what is right.”

Articles by Author: Richard Schuetz

Richard Schuetz started dealing blackjack for Bill Harrah 47 years ago, and has traveled the world as a casino executive, educator and regulator. He is sincerely appreciative of the help he received from his friends and colleagues throughout the gaming world in developing this article, understanding that any and all errors are his own.