If online sportsbook companies are ever able to be part of California sports betting, it will only be as tech providers.
At least, that’s what two leaders of the California tribe that owns the biggest casino on the West Coast told California Casinos.
Frank Sizemore, chief operating officer of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, and Dan Little, the tribe’s chief intergovernmental affairs officer, said they see tribes and sportsbooks compromising in only one way: National companies must be willing to serve just as technology providers to tribe-branded sportsbooks.
In other words, at the San Manuel Band’s Yaamava’ Resort & Casino, a retail sportsbook could use DraftKings’ back-end technology and odds. But it would be called something like Yaamava’ Sportsbook and use San Manuel/Yaamava’ branding.
There would be no “co-branding,” Sizemore said.
“Similar to the way Cisco and others operate your computer system,” he said. “(San Manuel envisions) a structure in which they provide technology solutions to the tribes. And then the tribes are the operators of the game, in whatever form that is. But (national companies), they’re back-of-house technology providers.”
In this scenario, private sports betting companies itching to get a slice of the California sports betting pie could still make good money as tech providers, Little said.
Just not nearly as much as they could make as customer-facing brands offering online sports betting in a market that experts believe could exceed $3 billion in annual revenue.
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Would Sportsbooks Be Interested?
Caesars Entertainment, which is already partnered with tribes in various states to run their casinos, and IGT have previously told Legal Sports Report they would be interested in such an arrangement.
This type of tribes-and-sportsbooks arrangement does not currently exist in any other US state with legal sports betting.
Sizemore and Little’s comments come in the wake of California tribes claiming victory over US sportsbooks in the 2022 election. Even though Prop 26, which would have legalized in-person sports betting at Indian casinos, failed with 67% of voters saying no, Prop 27, which would have legalized online sports betting anywhere in the state, failed with more than 82% of voters saying no.
The tribes’ main goal, Sizemore and Little claim, was to defeat Prop 27. The San Manuel Band spent more than $100 million on No on 27 advertising. That was more than any other tribe. By far.
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Moving forward, many hope another sports betting initiative appears on the 2024 ballot. This time, hopefully with a broader coalition of support from both tribes and sportsbooks.
Little isn’t sure that will happen so soon.
“This whole idea of inevitability, I’m not sure we subscribe to that thought,” Little said. “If you look at the election results, I don’t think anyone ever expected it to be that bad. And we had a high level of confidence that we were going to win because tribes have been in the state for thousands of years and have very good relationships. They’re part of the community.
“So when these companies took on the tribes, we knew they were going to have a really hard time. But we didn’t realize it was that bad. I mean, they got what, 17% of the vote?”
Added Sizemore: “I think it’s perfectly acceptable for the tribes not to have sports wagering. We haven’t had it for 20-plus years at tribal casinos here in California. … I definitely could see a scenario where tribes don’t really care. We used to say when we were building our campaign team, sports wagering is No. 752 on people’s agenda. No one really cares.”
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How About a Legislative Sports Betting Initiative?
If tribes and sportsbooks can’t compromise on one 2024 sports betting measure, the California Legislature could also step in and put its own version on the 2024 ballot.
However, that legislative version could only get through the Senate and Assembly if it had the broad support of representatives throughout the state — including plenty representing Indian communities. In November, Prop 26 spokesperson Kathy Fairbanks told California Casinos she was skeptical that would happen.
“A legislative solution is going to be difficult because tribes are located all over the state,” Fairbanks said. “So there won’t be unanimity among legislators if there’s not unanimity among tribes.”
California Casinos senior reporter Brant James contributed to this report.