A key tribal figure believes that California sports betting may not become legal until 2028.
James Siva, chairman of the California Nation Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA), also believes an incremental approach, with in-person California sports betting launching before online, is the best way forward for the Golden State.
A 2024 ballot effort led by Kasey Thompson has met resistance from both CNIGA and the Sports Betting Alliance (SBA). The SBA includes FanDuel Sportsbook, DraftKings Sportsbook, Fanatics Sportsbook and BetMGM.
“The reality is you have to get the California voters to approve it, and if they’re not ready to approve any sports betting initiative, don’t put forth a bad one,” Siva, who also serves as the vice chairman for the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, said Wednesday on an Indian Gaming Association podcast with Victor Rocha. “It’s just going to make it so much more complicated, so much more expensive when tribes do come back and want to push something for sports betting.”
Past California sports betting efforts
In 2022, a ballot effort led by FanDuel and DraftKings was handily defeated. Proposition 27, which would have legalized CA online sports betting, received just 18% of the vote.
The big commercial operators and gaming tribes, however, are now on the same side.
“They’ve had that interaction, they’ve learned their lessons, and now they’re coming back and seeing if there is a path to sports betting in California, it begins and ends with tribes. And I think they finally understand that,” Siva said.
Why 2028 for California sports betting
FanDuel recently hired a pair of executives with significant tribal experience. That has led to the hope of a more productive effort in 2026.
Yet, according to Siva, that may be too early. Super Bowl LXI will take place in California in February 2027. That makes the next election cycle a prime target for many to legalize sports betting.
“Maybe two years, probably more likely four years,” Siva said, referring to 2028.
Incremental approach better for tribes
In Siva’s opinion, in-person sports betting should be legalized first, then online.
“I think all these different efforts from these outside groups show that that path forward is going to be the path that provides the most protection for the tribes moving forward,” Siva said. “I think it ensures that we have enough time to work out the agreements amongst tribes to come to a position that we can all, or at least most of us, can agree on.”
Siva did note that that path is the “slowest” option.
“And if we lose an election cycle this upcoming year, it sets us back and we start to lose time. So maybe we have to look at going after it all at one time,” he said. “I think it makes it more complicated and you have to cover a lot more bases. I don’t think it’s impossible. But I still believe the slower, more incremental path provides that higher level of protection for tribes.”
CNIGA to fight 2024 effort if needed
In the meantime, CNIGA will continue to monitor the signature-gathering efforts of the proponents of the 2024 California sports betting initiatives.
“We remain steadfast in our opposition. But if they want to take this as far as getting it on the ballot, if we have to fight it, we will,” Siva said.
Siva was not convinced of Thompson’s stated goal to cleanse the market of illegal sports betting operators. Rocha noted a rumor that Bovada could be behind the 2024 effort.
“I hear it all over the place, and I believe it, that tribal gaming is the most well-regulated industry in this country,” Siva said. “Why would we place that at risk to deal with these guys, these already deemed illegal bad actors? Why would we put our reputation on the line for them?”
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