The economic benefits of legal and regulated sports betting may have been oversold to tribal operators, according to the leader of California’s Pechanga tribe.

Pechanga chairman Marc Marcarro skeptical about sports betting

Pechanga chairman Marc Marcarro is skeptical about projected sports betting revenue projections and says more research needs to be done to help tribal operators make informed decisions about whether to support it. (Image: Shane Gibson/My Valley News)

Speaking at G2E this week, Mark Marcarro, chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, said projected revenues may have been exaggerated, or are at least difficult to quantify, and has called for more research to be undertaken so that tribal operators can better understand the potential benefits.

California lawmaker Adam Gray has introduced legislation that would authorize sports betting the state, should the Supreme Court advocate a change in federal law when it reviews New Jersey’s case later this year.

Online Poker Squabble

The Pechangas have been accused of being “obstructionist” over California’s attempt to regulate online poker, due to their insistence that PokerStars, with whom several California tribes have a commercial agreement, should be frozen out of a future market due to its previous “bad actor” status.

Marcarro said that his experience of being involved in the failed process to regulate online poker in California has caused him to be cautious about sports betting, although he does believe it will be a net benefit to the tribal casinos as a whole.

“There were wild estimates out there about the world of liquidity of these things, and by last year [online poker estimates] were down by 75 percent,” he said.

The Pechanga chairman added that he would not be surprised if projected figures for sports betting were to take a similarly wild dive at some point in the near future. While operators report their sports books drive customers to onto the casino floor, the evidence remains “anecdotal” and needed to be backed up by cold, hard facts, he said.

Sports Betting Needs Tribal Support

“We’re all looking at the same limited amount of data, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot there,” he said, adding that the $150 billion figure is based on data gathered 20 years ago. “We need some new studies, we need some analytics, we need something quantifiable.”

While the National Indian Gaming Association recently lent its support to the American Sports Betting Coalition, an advocacy group organized by the American Gaming Association devoted to fighting for legal sports betting, many tribes remain circumspect.

The support of the tribes is vital for effective sports betting regulation in the future, but tribal operators are notoriously wary of any kind of gambling expansion that also involves commercial operators and may require renegotiations of their own state compacts.