California Sports Betting Future Front And Center At IGA Conference

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California sports betting

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Indian Gaming Association conference chair Victor Rocha says the future of California sports betting remains in a state of flux. 

“Everything is up in the air. It’s exciting and terrifying,” Rocha said on his podcast last week. 

Still, with FanDuel Sportsbook and DraftKings Sportsbook sponsoring the 2024 Indian Gaming Tradeshow & Convention, which takes place April 8-11, there is hope that a pathway toward legalization can eventually be found.  

Retail California sports betting first?

Perhaps, as Rocha suggested, it involves the legalization of in-person California sports betting for 2026, with online sports betting going live in the Golden State in 2028

“Listen, sports betting is going to happen,” Rocha told LSR. “We put it on the ballot in 2022 because we knew that it’s going to happen eventually. We were getting ahead of the game.

“And then the sports betting companies decided they wanted to speed things up, and that (messed) things up. So it’s about getting back to where we were. It’s a reset.” 

Chair: FanDuel making ‘right moves’

A reset appeared necessary following the Proposition 26 and 27 battle two years ago. Tensions between the major gaming tribes and the commercial sportsbook operators were sky-high after both initiatives failed with less than 20% of the vote.

However, FanDuel, especially recently, has attempted to make amends, reaching out to the tribes and hiring executives with California tribal experience.

In February, FanDuel president Christian Genetski sat on a tribal panel at the Western Indian Gaming Conference, taking a good-natured ribbing

“They have a long way to go. This is just the first step. They can show their participation,” Rocha said of FanDuel and DraftKings sponsoring the IGA conference. “FanDuel is working overtime to support just about every tribal event that’s out there right now. … FanDuel seems to be making all the right moves. DraftKings just seems to be there. I don’t see any contrition yet. It leaves a lot of room. I think FanDuel’s making all the right moves to be in the No. 1 position. But then, they seem to be doing that all over the country, don’t they?” 

Howe on CA sports betting panel

It was shortly before the Prop 27 defeat that FanDuel CEO Amy Howe said: “We live to fight another day.” 

That promoted Rocha to tweet, “Tone deaf, delusional & shortsighted. I think Jason (Robins) might be getting it. Amy needs to be educated. She might live in LA but she knows nothing of California. I’m guessing bruised ego.”

Howe will appear on a panel Tuesday with Morongo Band of Mission Indians vice chairman James Siva and Pechanga Development Corporation director of public affairs Jacob Mejia.  It is, at least optically, another step in the right direction.

“Amy is honored and delighted for the invitation and looks forward to attending,” a FanDuel spokesperson told LSR

DraftKings continuing talks with tribes

A DraftKings spokesperson told LSR that the operator looks forward to continuing the conversation with tribes. 

“DraftKings has established successful relationships with Tribes across the country that has brought legal and regulated sports betting to millions of people in several states. As we have in the past, we look forward to sponsoring this year’s Indian Gaming Conference in April as we continue to have healthy and productive dialogue with Tribal members,” the spokesperson said. 

Sportsbooks backed tribes against rogue initiative

The commercial sportsbook operators did not proceed with any sort of initiative during the 2024 legislative cycle. An unexpected effort by proponents Kasey Thompson and Reeve Collins ended abruptly, before sports betting could even get on the ballot. 

The California Nation Indian Gaming Association was steadfast in its opposition. FanDuel, DraftKings, Fanatics Sportsbook and BetMGM, came out against the initiative, in support of tribes. 

“It was just another nail in the coffin of that stupid idea. It just really drove home the point that those guys were delusional,” Rocha said. “We appreciate it, but the SBA didn’t become any closer to the tribes by it. It was a common sense reply to a stupid suggestion.” 

Sports betting will run through tribes

The future of sports betting in California will run through the tribes, who hold gaming exclusivity in the state. Yet with 110 tribes, it is a difficult proposition getting everyone on the same page. Conversations remain on going. 

“It’s all too early to say, but I would say at this point everybody is on the same page in that it needs to be incremental and it needs to be tribal first,” Rocha said.

“But there’s no paper to pass around, no signatures to gather yet, so it’s all being discussed. It’s all hypothetical at this point. But with that being said, everybody is moving in that direction (2026 in-person, 2028 online.)” 

California tribes following Florida court case

The tribes are keeping a watchful eye on all the court proceeding in the Florida sports betting case. The Seminole Tribe of Florida’s hub and spoke model could be replicated in the Golden State. 

“It’s huge. If the Supreme Court rejects (West Flagler’s writ petition) and it stands, that’s a huge win from Indian Country. We don’t expect them to stand back and let it happen. We expect more legal challenges. That’s what they do. But we will still be going forward,” Rocha said.

“The Biden administration has been very supportive of tribes and sovereignty, and with their attempts for getting past the restrictions of IGRA. … Having a president that supports tribal sovereignty in the White House is very important.” 

Online casino conversation never far

The future of online casinos in California is a topic currently on the back-burner. Yet, the tribes have a long-term vision for it.

“The tribes are laying the groundwork to make sure that they have exclusivity in online gaming, too. That’s the end game,” Rocha said.