Key tribal figures expressed satisfaction with the decision of the proponents to withdraw their California sports betting initiatives late last week.
As a result, it appears the earliest California sports betting could be legalized is 2026. However, several hurdles must be overcome for that to occur, with divided parties needing to get on the same page.
Richard Schuetz, a veteran of the California gaming industry, told LSR that he believes it will not happen until later than 2028.
Tribal group on California sports betting
James Siva, chairman of the California Nation Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA), issued a statement after proponent Kasey Thompson announced that his group was abandoning its effort to get sports betting on the November ballot.
“We are pleased that in the face of widespread tribal opposition, the backers of the two initiatives have kept their word and withdrawn what we could only regard as a cynical attempt to legalize sports wagering and online betting in California,” Siva said.
“These initiatives attempted to use tribes’ good names to cleanse illegal off-shore, online gambling corporations with an appalling track record of malfeasance. Let this failure also be a warning to others that seek to dubiously enter the California gaming market. Using tribes for your own gain will get you nowhere.”
Rocha: proponents were not serious
Victor Rocha, conference chair of the National Indian Gaming Association, told LSR he never took the proponents seriously.
“They were not serious players. I just heard BS. Now they leave as these really sad, pathetic characters that nobody will remember. And they won’t be back, because they didn’t play the game with honor. They lied to everybody. They didn’t hire the signature-gathers like they said they did. They didn’t have $25 million like they said they did. It was lie after lie after lie,” Rocha said.
“But I think it was just all one big bluff. They were hoping to get some type of inertia going, and were hoping it would snowball into something bigger. But it never did because they were never serious. They’re now relegated to the sideshow of freaks and geeks in the circus that is California sports betting. Either you can be a dreamer or you can be a liar, but you can’t be both.”
Next for California sports betting talks
Rocha said that Thompson and fellow proponent Reeve Collins‘s short-lived effort delayed any productive conversations for a few months. There is an All-Tribes Meeting on Tuesday in Sacramento, where fresh talks can begin.
“I think what these idiots showed is that you can’t rush it until it’s ready,” Rocha said. “But now I think the adults are back in the room and we’ll see where this goes. James said 2028. That sounded really far to me, but we’ll see.”
Tribes must lead on sports wagering
A pathway in 2026 likely would need tribes to take the lead. Major commercial operators and big gaming tribes were both on the same side in opposing the 2024 initiatives. It is, at the least, a step in the right direction, following the Proposition 27 battle in 2022.
“At this point, I think everyone is being cautious. It could come out in 2026. Anything is possible,” Rocha said. “But it would have to be a perfect path. It would have to be a perfect attempt. I don’t think there’s any room for errors. I don’t think anybody wants to come up with a bad idea just to have it knocked down at the ballot.”
Rocha continued, “You’re going to need unity with the tribes and the government. And that’s going to take a lot of work. You can’t have big tribes and small tribes going at each other’s throats, because that’ll just cause more confusion with the California voters. It has to be unity. Anything less will fail.”
Online gaming a bigger tribal issue
The future of online gaming in the Golden State will be at the forefront of any sports betting conversations.
“We’re very aware of all the conversations that are going on across the country, and how desperate the online sports betting companies are to become online gaming companies. That’s the first thing on their mind. That’s all they’re talking about right now,” Rocha said.
“It was never about fantasy or sports betting, it’s about online gaming. That’s the way this industry has always been. They’ve been just as deceitful as Kasey Thompson and Reeve Collins. It’s just they’re a lot slicker. They learned their lesson.”