Sports betting in California: Agua Caliente, Morongo among 18 tribes backing 2020 proposal
Leaders of several Riverside and San Bernardino county tribes back a proposal to legalize sports betting in California.
They are part of a coalition of 18 tribes from across the state that proposed an initiative this month to get a measure on the 2020 ballot that would allow sports betting at Native American casinos and licensed racetracks.
This comes as the U.S. Supreme Court lifted the federal prohibition on sports wagering in May 2018. Since then, sports betting has been legalized in several states, including Delaware and New Jersey.
The tribes from Riverside and San Bernardino counties in support of the proposal to amend California's constitution include: Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Morongo Band of Mission Indians, Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians and San Manuel Band of Mission Indians.
The coalition of 18 tribes has proposed that people would need to be physically present to gamble. In other words, they are not in favor of legalizing mobile betting in California.
Adam Candee, managing editor of Legal Sports Report, said most of the market has moved to mobile or online sports betting, so states that restrict this limit their revenue potential. However, tribes across the nation are wary of mobile betting and place a high value on getting people into casinos to take advantage of all that they offer.
"There's a belief that iGaming might take away from that and might cannibalize the success of some of the physical casinos," Candee said. "Whether that's true or not, we really haven't seen tested, but that is the belief."
Candee said it is difficult for the average consumer to distinguish between what's legal and what's not when it comes to online gambling.
The California tribes' proposal would prohibit sports betting at high school athletic events and games where any California college team is playing. Sports wagering would be limited to those over 21 and marketing and advertising sports betting to minors would be outlawed.
The tribes are proposing a 10% tax on gross gaming revenue derived from sports betting for public safety, mental health programs, education and regulatory costs.
"With the population of California, that could become something that can go into the state budget and potentially solve a number of pressing issues," Candee said.
Asked about the likelihood of the measure passing should it proceed to the statewide November 2020 ballot, Candee said there appears to be an appetite across the country.
"I think if you look at the state of Colorado, it's a state that historically has had mixed views toward legalized gaming and just recently, in this November election, legalized sports betting," he said. "This is something people have been doing with their friends or via illegal offshore means for a long time."
A non-tribal group, Californians for Sports Betting, proposed a sports betting initiative that failed earlier this year after it failed to gain the required signatures within 180 days of circulating petitions to make it on the ballot.
"You can see what happens when there's a lack of political will and a lack of clout behind an initiative," Candee said. "I think this is really different. When you see a coalition of 18 tribes getting behind legalized sports betting, you have to take it seriously."
Victor Rocha, conference chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association, said controversy over iPoker a few years ago set the stage for what's happening now. Tribes were split over how online poker should be regulated, and a state iPoker bill ultimately failed.
"The tribes have been at loggerheads before," said Rocha, a tribal member of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians.
That includes some of the tribes signing on to the sports betting initiative. They learned that "if we fight each other, nothing gets done," he said.
"For them, it's just making sure that this issue doesn't get away from them and other people don't come in and try to shove rules and regulations down their throat," Rocha said. "The tribes are being very responsible."
Mark Macarro, tribal chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, said in a news release announcing the proposal that Californians should be able to participate in sports betting at "highly regulated, safe, and experienced gaming locations."
“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,” Macarro said in the news release.
The Morongo Band of Mission Indians sent The Desert Sun a written statement in response to questions about sports betting. "Morongo stands with CNIGA and tribes across the state in support of the proposed initiative to allow Californians to safely participate in responsible, limited sports wagering," the statement said. "This initiative offers a prudent and measured approach to authorizing sports betting. Time and time again, California voters have reaffirmed the authority of tribal governments to offer gaming, and sports betting must recognize that right."
Other tribes in support of the proposal include: Santa Rosa Rancheria Tachi-Yokut Tribe (Kings County), Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians (Santa Barbara County), Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians (El Dorado County), Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation (San Diego County), Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians (San Diego County), Wilton Rancheria (Sacramento County), Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation (Yolo County), Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians (San Diego County), Middletown Rancheria of Pomo Indians of California (Lake County), Mechoopda Indian Tribe of Chico Rancheria (Butte County), Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria (Sonoma County), Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians (Sonoma County), Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians (Lake County), and Barona Band of Mission Indians (San Diego County).
Representatives for the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians and Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians deferred comment to the overall news release.
Risa Johnson covers Native American affairs in the Coachella Valley and beyond. She can be reached at email@example.com or (760) 778-4737. Follow her on Twitter @risamjohnson