California Tribes Shelve Mobile Sports Betting Ballot Initiative

Posted on: May 13, 2022, 06:54h. 

Last updated on: May 13, 2022, 11:19h.

California tribal gaming operators have temporarily abandoned a ballot initiative that would ask voters to hand them a mobile sports betting monopoly.

California sports betting
A Los Angeles resident casts her vote in a mail-in drop-box ahead of Election Day 2020. A tribal coalition, including the San Manuel and Rincon tribes, has said it will not fight for mobile sports betting in the upcoming ballot. (Image: Getty)

The coalition of tribes that introduced the measure back in November said this week it would instead focus on defeating a rival commercial gaming initiative. That proposal would authorize online sports betting through partnerships between commercial operators and tribes.

The initiative is led by FanDuel and DraftKings.

But tribal operators bitterly oppose the expansion of commercial gaming in California. They have said they would rather see their own initiatives fail than allow out-of-state commercial operators into California.

The commercial proposal has not yet officially qualified for the 2022 ballot but is expected to capture the signatures necessary.

Support Slipping for Mobile?

The tribes already have a separate sports betting measure on the ballot. This would authorize in-person-only sports betting at tribal casinos.

By dropping the mobile initiative, the coalition will make the choice clearer for voters. The tribes believe support for mobile sports betting has fallen among voters in California, and that the land-based initiative now represents the clearest path to victory.

A poll commissioned by the coalition last month found that 53% of 1,094 California voters polled were against the corporate initiative, up from 47% in November. However, a different survey on behalf of the online operators found that 59% were in favor.

There is legal uncertainty about the tribes controlling mobile sports betting in the state. The federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) prohibits tribal gaming outside sovereign reservations. A recent compact in Florida that would have given the Seminole Tribe a mobile sports betting monopoly in the state was shot down by a federal judge in late 2021.

The tribes’ initiative proposed amending the constitution so statewide online bets don’t fall under IGRA.

A $1.4B Market

As the wealthiest and most populous state in the US, California has the potential to become one of the biggest regulated sports betting markets in the world.

Deutsche Bank analysts say the market could handle $1.4 billion in its first year, a figure that could nearly double by 2027. But that’s based on the adoption of statewide mobile betting, as opposed to the limited retail betting option currently backed by the tribes.

But the coalition hasn’t given up on mobile sports betting. A spokesperson told SportsHandle this week it would continue collecting signatures for the initiative until June before submitting it for inclusion on the 2024 ballot.

This would ensure voters ultimately get to decide on a ”tribal-operated mobile sports betting measure with a far better revenue-sharing deal for California,” the spokesperson said.

It would also allow time for resolution of the Seminole legal battle in Florida, hopefully transmitting a clearer picture of the legality of statewide tribal online sports betting.