Sports betting was front and center at the NIGA Midyear Conference. Held at the Pechanga Casino Resort in Temecula, California, the conference always has excellent content, but this year it centered on sports betting, specifically in California.
The conference kicked off with a session of tribal leaders moderated by Jason Giles, executive director of the National Indian Gaming Association and included panelists Mark Macarro, chairman, Pechanga Band; James Siva, chairman, California Nations Indian Gaming Association; and Jacob Mejia, director of public affairs, Pechanga Development Corporation. The speakers outlined why tribal nations need to control sports betting in California. A coalition of tribes has managed to get a proposal for land-based sports betting on the 2022 ballot. It’s the only one of four proposed sports betting ballot questions to have gained a spot on the ballot.
The proposal does not provide for mobile sports betting, and limits retail sports betting to the tribal casinos and state racetracks. Card rooms will not be permitted to host sports books under this proposal, and have launched a drive to approve a ballot question that would make it legal in card rooms as well.
Macarro admitted that the tribal measure is designed to protect the existing land-based casinos.
“We have a vested interest in protecting the brick and mortars that we have,” he says. “This is why we pursued this option.”
More than 20 tribes support this bill, according the Macarro.
“To formally build a coalition where a tribe will be willing to put its name on campaign material, we are moving forward with those efforts to solidify that support,” he explained. “Look for the coalition size to grow over the next handful of months as we roll into the early part of next year.”
A third ballot proposal is being supported by sports betting operators across the country, and the two leading sports betting companies, DraftKings and FanDuel, sent representatives to the conference to explain their vision.
Conference Chairman Victor Rocha sat down with DraftKings’ Jeremy Elbaum, and FanDuel’s Jonathan Edson, both senior vice presidents of business development for their companies. Macarro has insisted that the tribes will not cooperate with the operators, but Elbaum and Edson think it could work.
Edson took exception to the idea that the operators would harm the tribal sports betting operations.
“It’s easy to say what we’re trying to do is take away gaming from the tribes when we’re doing exactly the opposite,” he says. “It’s easy to say that the way we’ve set this up could force tribes to relinquish sovereignty. Exactly the opposite is true. And so to the extent we can bring those messages, which after listening we understand are important for the tribes to hear, that’s what we’re trying to do.”
“Over time, it’s a process to get people to understand why we did it the way we did it, who we’ve spoken to and the buy-in that we have from those groups, and why it makes sense,” Elbaum said. “We’ll eventually, hopefully, get people to come around to understand that it does make sense.”
A fourth possible ballot question is being proposed by four tribes—who are also part of the original tribal proposal—San Manuel, Rincon, Graton Rancheria and Wilton Rancheria. The proposal is similar to the first proposal but adds mobile sports betting but only under the tribal brands.
The third day of the NIGA conference was dedicated to sports betting as well, with discussions concerning the customers, retail locations and mobile wagering.