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Californian tribes make sports betting regulatory pitch


A coalition of 18 California-based Native American tribes have put forward a proposal that could pave the way for the launch of legal wagering in the state.

The proposal, the California Sports Wagering Regulation and Unlawful Gambling Enforcement Act, takes the form of a ballot measure, which if adopted would be put to voters at the November 2020 elections. 

It aims to amend the state constitution to legalize sports betting at limited locations, including Indian gaming casinos and licensed racetracks, and set a 10% gross revenue tax on licensees. 

“Californians should have the choice to participate in sports wagering at highly regulated, safe, and experienced gaming locations,” said Tribal Chairman Mark Macarro of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians. 

“We are very proud to see tribes from across California come together for this effort, which represents an incremental but important step toward giving Californians the freedom to participate in this new activity in a responsible manner.” 

Only in-person wagering would be permitted under the Act, and limited to those aged 21 and above. Minors are further protected by advertising controls, such as a prohibition on advertising that may appeal to underage individuals, while betting on high school sports and events featuring California-based college teams will be prohibited. 

Furthermore, any violation of the Act would incur a civil penalty of up to $10,000, as part of its efforts to strengthen the state’s ability to prosecute illegal gambling. It argues that current enforcement of gambling laws is “inadequate” making new controls to protect minors and vulnerable adults necessary.

Finally, the Act also aims to legalize craps and roulette at Indian gaming casinos. 

Taxes raised through the 10% levy on sports betting revenue would be deposited in the California Sports Wagering Fund, which is created through the Act. From the state’s 2022-23 fiscal year, 15% of money deposited in the fund would be allocated to the Department of Health for the research and treatment of problem gambling and mental health. 

A further 15% would go towards the Department of Justice’s Gambling Control Bureau, to cover regulatory costs for legal wagering and other forms of gambling. The remaining 70% would be allocated to the state General Fund.

In explaining its reasoning behind limiting sports betting to tribal venues and the state’s racetracks, the tribes highlighted their contribution to the California economy. They noted that in 2016 alone, tribal gaming created more than 124,300 jobs, with operators paying $9bn in wages to employees, and contributing $3.4bn in taxes and revenue sharing agreements with federal, state and local governments. 

By allowing wagering at racetracks, they added, they would help safeguard the 17,000 jobs created by the Californian horseracing sector.

Taxes raised through the 10% levy on sports betting revenue would be deposited in the California Sports Wagering Fund, which is created through the Act.

Steve Stallings, chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, described the ballot measure as “the best example of well-written and responsible sports betting policy presented to date” in the state.

“A strong, well-regulated gaming industry is of utmost importance to California’s tribal governments and the public,” Stallings explained. “This initiative allows sports wagering in a responsible manner and provides for transparency and strict regulation.”

While the potential returns from gambling expansion in California have long been talked up by the industry, tribal opposition has been seen as a key stumbling block to any efforts. To date, the only definitive attempt to move towards any sort of regulatory framework for wagering came from California Assemblymember Adam Gray, who put forward another, less detailed, ballot measure for November 2020 in June this year. 

Gray’s measure simply aims to grant the state legislature the power to pass sports betting regulations. 

However, it is likely to be opposed by tribal bodies following the publication of their in-depth proposal.

“We have historically been opposed to the expansion of gaming in California beyond the current scope,” Tribal Chairman Anthony Roberts of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation said. 

“This initiative represents a viable and measured path that provides Californians with the opportunity to wager on sports in a manner that is responsible and provides for real enforcement penalties for unlawful gambling in the state.”

Alongside the Pechanga and Yocha Dehe Wintun tribes, backing The California Sports Wagering Regulation and Unlawful Gambling Enforcement Act are: 

  • Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians 
  • Barona Band of Mission Indians 
  • Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians 
  • Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians 
  • Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria 
  • Mechoopda Indian Tribe of Chico Rancheria
  • Middletown Rancheria of Pomo Indians of California
  • Morongo Band of Mission Indians 
  • Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians
  • San Manuel Band of Mission Indians
  • Santa Rosa Rancheria Tachi-Yokut Tribe 
  • Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians
  • Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians
  • Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation 
  • Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians 
  • Wilton Rancheria