FanDuel CEO Jokes About California Sports Betting ‘Spectacular Fail’ On IGA Panel

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California sports betting

ANAHEIM, Calif. —  FanDuel CEO Amy Howe on Tuesday became the first CEO of a major commercial operator to appear at a tribal gaming and California sports betting conference following the overwhelming defeat of Propositions 26 and 27

Howe appeared on an Indian Gaming Association conference panel with Morongo Band of Mission Indians vice chairman James Siva and Pechanga Development Corporation director of public affairs Jacob Mejia

FanDuel has been at the forefront in trying to mend a fractured relationship between operators and tribes since the contentious 2022 legislative cycle.

“We can joke about it. It was a spectacular fail,” Howe said, echoing similar sentiments from FanDuel president Christian Genetski. “While our efforts were well-intentioned, they were fairly misguided and ill-informed. What today is about is really an opportunity to reset.” 

Why Howe accepted tribal invite

Howe explained to LSR why she decided to accept an invitation to join the California sports betting panel. 

Two years ago, Howe angered some key tribal figures when she said, “We live to fight another day,” in the wake of the resounding ballot defeat.

“I think we’re a pretty humble organization,” Howe told LSR. “We’ve been trying to just listen and learn as much as possible before we jump back into coming up with solutions. Because as I said today, at the end of the day, if legalized sports betting is going to be successful in the state of California, it’s going to be through and with the tribes, not against the tribes.”

Mejia: Howe came off ‘very sincere’

Mejia commended Howe for her willingness to sit alongside key tribal figures and take a good-natured ribbing. 

“Thank you on the one hand,” Mejia said. “On the other hand, you know what they say about the first person through a wall.” 

Following the panel, Mejia said Howe’s remarks came off as “very sincere.” 

“It was refreshing to hear that they’ve taken stock in the outcome of the election, and to reflect on what happened. It sounds like they’ve learned some lessons. But as people have already said, the proof is in the pudding,” Mejia told LSR.

FanDuel looking to mend fences

FanDuel recently added experienced executives with California tribal background to help mend the relationship. Recent hires Frank Sizemore and Rikki Tanenbaum, as well as former NIGC chairman E. Sequoyah Simermeyer, attended the panel. 

The hirings signified how times have changed. Sizemore, while an executive for the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, once carried a notebook adorned with stickers that read: 

California sports betting takeaways

Howe said FanDuel has learned a lot from the failures of Props 26 and 27 in the Golden State

“We also know the voters have to be ready,” Howe said. “I’ve looked at some of the recent polling data, and clearly we have some work to do. But it’s also very clear how well-respected the tribes are by the residents of California.

“So (it’s important) having one unified approach that we can all get behind together that the voters understand, because it was confusing (in 2022), is going to be critical for the ultimate success of this.”  

Future of sports betting in California

Howe mentioned three important elements for the future of California sports betting going forward: 

“California can and should be the greatest market and economy in the world for sports wagering,” Howe said. “There is going to have to be some sort of robust revenue share to the tribes, which you all will figure out how that ultimately gets distributed. And tax revenue to the state so that they generate the revenue they should, and the operators paying an entry fee to be able to do that.”

California sports betting framework

The key question going forward is what a potential framework could look like. 

IGA chairman Victor Rocha suggested the possibility of legalizing in-person sports betting in 2026, with online sports betting being legalized in 2028. Siva reiterated the stance of the tribes. 

“Expansion of gaming is going to happen. It’s a matter of when, not if. But when that does happen, tribes are going to remain in control. We will partner with companies, we will utilize products. But tribes are the operators in California, period. That’s it,” Siva said. 

Would FanDuel serve as a B2B?

Questions will need to be answered regarding the future of in-person registration and branding.

Would FanDuel, which sponsored the IGA event along with DraftKings Sportsbook, be open to serving as a B2B operator for tribes in the Golden State?

“As I said today we recognize that California is a very different market, so it’s likely going to require a different approach, and we’re open to different approaches,” Howe told LSR. “I think we want to balance that with what we know works in the market. So whether it’s the FanDuel brand (or something else), all of that is yet to be determined. 

“What is important is that we can create a model that is economically viable for everyone, so we can get consumers in the state of California the best proposition that we can, which we do everywhere. I think we can thread that needle, but it’s going to take some time to figure out how we do that.” 

Mejia: FanDuel as B2B an ‘open question’

Mejia believes the future of commercial operators in a B2B capacity is an “open question.”

“I think it sounded as though she was saying, ‘Tribes (you) tell us what will work in the state,’ Mejia said. “Make no mistake. Legalizing sports betting in California is a steep and heavy lift. As proven by the outcome of both 26 and 27.

“Which means tribes and stakeholders have to be in agreement with respect to the path forward, and she certainly sounded open to listening to tribes and following their lead as Chairman Siva put it.” 

Siva: Operators must be patient

Siva had some advice for operators. 

“I would say be patient. Listen to the tribes. We know where we want to go. We’ve seen efforts in the past to come in and divide and conquer tribes. As you’ve seen, that was not successful,” Siva said.

“We’re making new relationships moving forward, but we don’t forget. We remember. So I would say get out of our way. We know what we’re doing. This is our industry. Get out of our way and we’ll show you the path.”

Howe: We want to be a partner, ally

Howe gave her overall takeaway, on a day that felt like a positive step in the right direction. 

“I think when you hear the emotion and the history of the tribes, what really resonated today was when Chairman Siva talked about lifting their brothers and sisters up. That’s generations, we’re talking about a quarter of a century, where they’ve been doing this,” Howe said.

“And tribal sovereignty isn’t just a word, it has deep meaning. What they’re focused on is really critical to protecting future generations. And to the extent that we can be an ally and a partner in that in the future, I find that personally very motivating.”