California Sports Betting Legalization Facing Tribal Wall of Opposition

California, one of the states that have not yet legalized sports betting, is facing another conundrum, as the project to allow wagering on sports in the state is all but supported from the state’s Native American tribes. And they are willing to make no concessions.

Amended Bill Moves Forward

Last week, the proposal put forward by state Sen. Bill Dodd and Assemblymember Adam Gray that would authorize tribal casinos and the state’s major racetracks to operate sports wagering at their facilities and via mobile devices, cleared the key Governmental Organization Committee and moved to the Senate Appropriations Committee, but met serious resistance from the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation of Yolo County, the tribal operator of Cache Creek Casino Resort in Brooks.

Yocha Dehe Totally Against

Anthony Roberts, tribal chairman of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, sent a letter to the bill sponsors, expressing the tribe’s resolve to oppose the proposed legislation.          

“Yocha Dehe’s opposition to this measure could not be stronger, and we vow to vigorously fight it at every turn”

Anthony Roberts, Tribal Chairman, Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation

The conflict point arises from the provision in the current amendment that, besides authorizing tribal casinos to offer sports betting as well as the currently outlawed roulette and craps, would give new authority to the state’s card rooms and would practically end a legal battle that has been going on for years.

Infringing Tribal Exclusivity

For decades card rooms in California have been implementing a workaround the rule that banked games, games where the casino has a stake in the outcome, are not allowed outside of tribal gaming facilities, by introducing a third-party dealer. This category of games includes the popular blackjack, three-card poker, baccarat and pai gow poker.

Tribal casinos have been opposing this practice stating it is their exclusive right to offer these games and what the card rooms do is illegal, but state authorities have done nothing to shut down or bring enforcement actions against the card rooms.

The impasse caused a lawsuit against the state in January 2019, arguing that the state’s inaction violated the tribal impacts. The Yocha Dehe also took part in the lawsuit which was dismissed in court last summer, with the tribes now appealing to a higher court.

Card Rooms Hail the Proposal

In total contrast to the position of the Yocha Dehe, the California Gaming Association, the industry body representing the state’s card rooms, hailed the proposed amendment in a letter to legislators.

“In addition to the thoughtful approach to sports wagering, your measures will reassert the legality of our games as California courts have repeatedly done in the past and ensure the continued safe, legal offering of the popular games our industry has offered for over two decades without harm to or complaint from the public.”

California Gaming Association

The power the tribes have in the state would not allow any sports betting legalization without their consent, an important detail the amended bill sponsor Sen. Dodd is well aware of. At the committee hearing he made his best to tell the tribes that their concerns were heard and there is willingness from legislation to work in accord with them.

It will be next to impossible to find compromise though, as in essence, what the tribes want is for card rooms to stop violating their exclusivity right, as well as to maintain tribal exclusivity regarding any state gambling expansion, including sports betting.

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