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Tribal Groups in California Criticize New Sports Betting Initiatives

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Two new sports betting initiatives were filed in California on October 27 and were almost immediately criticized by tribal gaming interests in the state. Their aim is to present the divisive matter once again to voters in the 2024 election cycle.

Source of Proposals Remains Unclear

Documents titled “The Sports Wagering Regulation and Tribal Gaming Protection Act” were submitted by Ryan Waltz, sparking rumors about a possible connection to the Pala Band of Mission Indians. This group owns the Pala Casino Spa and Resort in Northeast San Diego County. However, the paperwork didn't explicitly link itself to any tribal organization, leaving the source of the proposals unclear.

Victor Rocha, who belongs to the Pechanga Band of Indians and is the conference chairman of the Indian Gaming Association, was skeptical about the feasibility of these proposals. On social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, Rocha said, “In my humble opinion, it’s Pala. It’s interactive. It’s dead on arrival.”

The California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA), the largest tribal gaming association in the state, expressed strong disappointment. It criticized the authors of the initiatives for not consulting with them prior to submitting the documents to the Attorney General’s office.

There was also speculation surrounding Boyd Gaming’s role, especially as the company purchased Pala Interactive last November. David Strow, Vice President of Corporate Communications at Boyd Gaming, however, denied any involvement in the proposals. This denial came as questions arose about whether Boyd Gaming's interests might be at odds with those of California’s tribal communities.

Proposals Argue Indian Tribal Governments Best for the Job

The proposals highlight the necessity for competent, well-regulated operators to oversee sports betting in the state. They suggest that Indian tribal governments, because of their long history of running land-based casinos in California, would be the most reliable entities for this role. Critics, however, argue that tribes may have casino expertise but do not have a history of running sportsbooks.

In the state, only the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians operates a casino where sports betting is allowed, specifically through its ownership of the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas. It's important to point out that the sportsbook at this location is managed by Caesars Entertainment's William Hill. This underscores that while tribes have casino expertise, they don’t have a strong history in sportsbook management.

The future of these recently proposed sports betting initiatives is still up in the air. Without support from key tribal entities in California, these plans face significant obstacles. Currently, industry observers see Georgia as the only mid-to-large state with a realistic chance of legalizing sports betting in 2024.

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