In a savvy move that may result in a financial windfall, the Chicken Ranch Tribe of Me-Wuk Indians recently revealed plans to launch a sports betting-themed bingo app in a partnership with gaming company Vetnos LLC. The tribe owns the Chicken Ranch Casino in Tuolumne County.
As of now, sports betting is not legal in California. There are two propositions on the Nov. 8 ballot, Prop 26 and Prop 27, that aim to legalize the activity, but the outlook for each is grim, with polls predicting that both will fail.
In the meantime, Chicken Ranch is busy working on apps that will extend its gaming market share.
Taking the Initiative With a Class II Gaming App and an Aggregator
While the Prop 26 vs. Prop 27 battle rages on as backers have made the initiatives the most expensive ballot measures in the state’s history, Chicken Ranch is looking at a more creative solution.
Chicken Ranch Tribal Chairman Lloyd Mathiesen is looking ahead if the ballot propositions fail.
“We need something else to be there,” he said in an interview with California Casinos.
Chicken Ranch is in the process of launching the closest thing it can to online sports betting in the state. In fact, the tribe is working with partners to launch two apps: PlaySqor and Oddsium.
PlaySqor is a Class II app, while Oddsium is an app that aggregates sportsbooks.
PlaySqor is a fixed-odds sports matchup game. The matchup rounds contain athlete vs. athlete challenges. App users choose the athletes they think will generate the highest performance score. The winning matchups are put on a bingo-style card. When users create a bingo pattern on the card, they win cash. Bets can be made for as little as $1.
About 8 months ago, Mathiesen and his colleagues met with Vetnos to discuss a partnership to roll out PlaySqor, a Class II sports-themed betting app.
The definition of Class II gaming, per California gambling regulations, is:
Class II includes several games, such as bingo (either with or without electronic game devices), lotto, and “non-banked” card games like poker. Class II games involve players competing against each other and not the “house” (although this is sometimes a difficult distinction to make given the similarity of modern Class II and Class III electronic devices).
Mathiesen noted that since the app is Class II, “oversight is by the federal government and also just the tribe itself.”
“We don’t have to deal with the state,” he added. “That was a big draw for us.”
Vetnos features a quote from Mathiesen on its website:
“It’s the future. We know that the best thing that you can do is diversify. And what’s a better way to diversify into an offering than around something that you already know, which is gaming. Because it’s Class II, the tribes really have more control.”
Mathiesen said the tribe hopes to start beta testing PlaySqor next month and that Chicken Ranch will be the first in the nation to launch it.
Based in New York City, Vetnos is also partnering with two tribes in Oklahoma to build Class II gaming apps.
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User Betting Choices With Oddsium
About a year ago, Chicken Ranch became aware of Oddsium and decided to invest in the app, which aggregates bookmakers into one platform. App users can place bets on teams in leagues worldwide and view real-time scores, stats, and odds, as well as live streams. Once a user is ready to make a bet, they can choose which operators will handle the wager.
“You get to choose who you want to bet with,” Mathiesen said.
A private company in Sweden owns Oddsium. The app is set to launch in New Jersey this year. Oddsium also aims to do business in Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Colorado.
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Sports Betting on the Ballot Fuels Impetus for a Tribe-Owned App
Prop 26 would allow retail sports betting at California tribal casinos and licensed racetracks. The Yes on 26 coalition is a coalition of over 50 tribes plus a cross-section of political and non-profit organizations.
Prop 27, which seeks to legalize online sports betting, is heavily supported by FanDuel, DraftKings, BetMGM, Fanatics, and PENN Gaming (Barstool Sportsbook).
Even though the corporate-backed sportsbooks, led by market frontrunner FanDuel, dominate the world of mobile betting apps, some Native American-owned casinos are entering the space with their own online gaming products.
The tribes not only hope to cash in, but also to protect the market share they’ve carved out in their respective states. They fear their sovereignty would decrease if corporate entities were allowed to offer sports betting with millions in profits, leaving the state with no public service benefits trickling down to residents.
“It’s FanDuel and DraftKings. It’s just corporations coming in,” Mathiesen told California Casinos. “They’re not bringing really any money to the state of California and not making any money for the people of California either. So, I mean, that was very easy not to like. It is definitely nothing for tribal. They are all about themselves, period. They’re not California companies.”
While the Chicken Ranch Tribe is opposed to Prop 27, it is not entirely happy with Prop 26 either.
Mathiesen said, “he might catch heat for this,” before voicing his concerns about Prop 26, which has received tens of millions in support from well-funded tribes that own the state’s largest casinos.
“We didn’t like the fact that it had racetracks. It has nothing in there for California tribes that are smaller,” he said, and added that the lack of any benefit for smaller tribes “didn’t sit well with us.”
He referenced a 1999 statewide gaming compact that provides small tribes with revenue from a profit-sharing trust fund subsidized with quarterly payments from large tribal casinos. Even tribes without casinos receive money from the fund.
Sooner or Later, California Sports Betting Is Coming
Even if sports betting propositions tank at the ballot box on Nov. 8, it’s coming to the state sooner or later, Mathiesen said.
“It’s gonna happen. I mean, everyone wants it,” he said. “And whether if you don’t want to bet or not, there’s other people that do. And why not allow them to have a chance to bet?”