American Gaming Association tries to stress tribes' place in sports betting debate
Legal Sports Report

Casino Group Trying To Make Tribes Happy In Sports Betting Legalization Push

AGA tribes sports betting
A website advocating repeal of a national prohibition on sports betting has been heavily edited to downplay the commercial gambling industry’s support of states’ rights while emphasizing American Indian sovereignty.

The changes were apparently made in response to criticism from several of the nation’s 244 tribes with casinos, including at least nine members of the American Gaming Association (AGA), the commercial gambling industry lobby and trade group which set up the website.

Editing the site indicates AGA’s willingness to acknowledge the legal complexities of its tribal members operating casinos as government enterprises under federal law as opposed to commercial casinos taxed and regulated by the states.

“I think AGA will confer more closely with member tribes,” said Robert Martin, chairman of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians and a member of the AGA.

AGA officials did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

The American Sports Betting Coalition (ASBC) website calls for repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA).

The US Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments this fall on a lawsuit out of New Jersey seeking revocation of PASPA. A ruling is anticipated next year.

Adding tribes to the sports betting discussion

The ASBC site previously stated its goal was to “give states the ability to decide the question of legalization.” That sentence has been eliminated.

The ASBC site now says it intends to:

“Advocate for repealing the failed federal sports betting ban and granting states and tribal sovereign governments the ability to determine how to address sports betting.”

The description of the coalition’s makeup has been changed to include “tribal sovereign governments.”

And another paragraph now reads: “But today, 72 percent of avid sports fans want to end the federal ban, and more than ever, Americans believe that states and tribal sovereign governments should have the right to choose whether or not to conduct sports betting.”

The original website language listed as the first of four primary goals, “Defer to states regarding the desirability of regulating sports betting as all forms of casino wagering.”

That sentence has been edited to read, “Defer to states and tribal sovereign governments regarding the desirability of regulating sports betting.”

Three additional goals that have not been changed are:

  • Ensure the integrity of sports betting and sports through state licensing and regulation.
  • Make all sports betting businesses transparent to law enforcement.
  • Ensure a tax regime does not undermine regulated sports betting operations’ ability to compete against illegal offshore operators.

Tribes, states and sports betting

Tribal government casinos operate under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), which give tribes primacy in regulating gambling on trust lands.

IGRA also prohibits state taxation of tribal gambling revenues. However, some tribes have indicated a willingness to operate sports wagering as a commercial venture, taxed and regulated by the states, rather than a government enterprise under IGRA.

As first reported by Legal Sports Report, tribes were critical of a July decision by the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) to join the coalition. Sources said NIGA board members had not seen the AGA website when they voted to join the group.

“They’re (AGA) clearly promoting legalization of sports betting and they want to turn it over to the states,” a high-ranking tribal official who requested anonymity said of the original website language.

“Any tribal leader who reads that is going to say, ‘No, we’re not getting on board with that.’”

Tribes are sovereign, with a long-standing treaty relationship with the federal government. They do not generally accept being subservient to the states.

In addition, some tribes have expressed a willingness to operate sports wagering in states which do not choose to legalize the activity.

Not so fast on sports wagering

As government enterprises operated under IGRA and restricted by state regulatory agreements, or compacts, Indian casinos would encounter difficulty adjusting to an expansion of state or federally sanctioned gambling, whether it is sports wagering, internet gambling or daily fantasy sports.

Many tribes are expressing opposition or concern over the potential legalization of sports betting, particularly those with compacts giving them statewide or regional exclusivity to operate casinos.

NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens said his organization voted to join the coalition to monitor the group, not to advocate for repeal of PASPA.

“Of chief concern to NIGA is to ensure that tribal interests are protected, particularly avoidance of any negative impacts on existing compacts and exclusivity clauses,” Stevens said.

AGA President and CEO Geoff Freeman said repealing PASPA “simply gives states, commercial and tribal operators the opportunity to pursue sports wagering if they so choose.”

“States would have the opportunity to choose whether the activity should be regulated within their borders – it does not necessarily mean that they are the regulator and it certainly doesn’t mean that they can violate existing exclusivity agreements,” he said.

“Any suggestion to the contrary is fear mongering.”

But tribal leaders contend the vast disparity of compact language and legal and regulatory structures in the 28 states with Indian casinos make gambling expansion problematic.

“Many tribes have difficult relations with the states in which they are located,” said a tribal consultant speaking with the promise of anonymity.

A federal solution on sports betting?

Tribal leaders earlier this month expressed satisfaction with the wording of draft legislation to repeal PASPA.

The bill draft being circulated by Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) gives federally recognized tribal governments parity with states in establishing regulatory jurisdiction for sports betting.

The draft, which has not been introduced, also states that the legalization of sports betting shall not be construed as “altering, limiting or extending” state law or tribal-state compacts.

Finally, the act would not impact tribal guarantees in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

“His draft bill goes a long way toward what tribes could support,” said a tribal official involved in the lobby effort who requested anonymity.

Tribes and commercial casino companies each operate about half of the 1,000 US casinos. They each generate roughly $30 billion in annual revenue and employ some 330,000 workers.

Tribal support needed

Tribal consultant Joe Valandra, former chief of staff of the National Indian Gaming Commission, which provides regulatory oversight of tribal casinos, said AGA needs tribal political support in its lobby effort to repeal PASPA.

“It’s a positive move for the coalition because of the state congressional delegations” with tribal constituents, Valandra said.

Freeman said the AGA’s 10 tribal members represent about a third of the revenue generated by Indian casinos nationwide, or about $10 billion.

Legal Sports Report has confirmed nine tribes and tribal enterprises as members of the lobby and trade association.

“Geoff has made it a point to be more engaged with the tribal community,” AGA spokesman Steve Doty said in an interview last month. “We are more actively working with tribes than AGA has in the past.

“Obviously we’re focused on repealing PASPA and overturning the band on sports betting.

“We want to find a solution that works for everybody. We want to engage as many stakeholders as we can and have as large of a dialogue as possible. That includes NIGA and the tribes.”

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Dave Palermo
- Dave Palermo is an award-winning metropolitan newspaper reporter. He has written about American Indian governments for more than 20 years, working as an advocate for several tribes and tribal associations. He also has co-authored books on gambling and gambling law.