November 15, 2019 4 min read


California Tribes Pushing for Sports Betting Legalization in 2020

A new proposal brought up by 18 Native American tribes may see California change its constitution in November 2020 and introduce sports betting. Cardrooms will be left out of the deal.

California Gearing Up for Sports Betting in 2020

California’s Native American tribes are stepping up their efforts to zone out card rooms in the state, which have been biting in their revenue. As per a new proposal lodged by a coalition of 18 state-based tribes, sports betting may soon become a reality.

Called the California Sports Wagering Regulation and Unlawful Gambling Enforcement Act, the proposed measure will be decided upon at the ballot during the November 2020 elections. Should voters give their approval, California would be able to enact changes to the Constitution and introduce sports betting.

In this respect, the tribes have followed legalization plans similar to other places, including Colorado and Arkansas where to introduce sports betting, lawmakers have agreed to vote on the constitution. Here’s the full list of operators backing the move:

  • Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians 
  • Barona Band of Mission Indians 
  • Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians 
  • Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians 
  • Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria 
  • Mechoopda Indian Tribe of Chico Rancheria
  • Middletown Rancheria of Pomo Indians of California
  • Morongo Band of Mission Indians 
  • Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians
  • Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians
  • San Manuel Band of Mission Indians
  • Santa Rosa Rancheria Tachi-Yokut Tribe 
  • Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians
  • Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians
  • Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation 
  • Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians 
  • Wilton Rancheria
  • Yocha Dehe Wintun Tribe

What Does the Sports Wagering Regulation Entail?

As per the current outline of the proposed measure, the state will claim 10% gross revenue tax on licenses and the activity will be legalized in limited locations owned by the tribes themselves.

Tribal Chairman Mark Macarro of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, had the following to say on the occasion:

“Californians should have the choice to participate in sports wagering at highly regulated, safe, and experienced gaming locations.

We are very proud to see tribes from across California come together for this effort, which represents an incremental but important step toward giving Californians the freedom to participate in this new activity in a responsible manner.”

A new specially-created California Sports Wagering Fund would be created. Out of it, 15% would be allocated to the Department of Health, and specifically to tackle gambling addiction. Another 15% would go to the Department of Justice’s Gambling Control Bureau. Another 70% would go to California’s General Fund.

No Mobile Wagering

A long-time conservative state, mostly because of the strong clout of tribal operators, California wouldn’t have mobile betting – under the Gaming Enforcement Act at least. Tribes insist that all sports betting is done in-person and to participate in the activity, a person must be at least 21 years of age.

The plans tribe to have specific measures to curtail underage gambling and limit exposure of minors to gambling products by targeting advertisement.

Colouring Outside the Law

The tribes also want to introduce a fine that would come in the form of a civil penalty worth at least $10,000. This, operators hope, would allow California to address any potential illegal gambling – an allusion to cardrooms in the state which have been pushing Native American tribes’ buttons.

Kiss Cardrooms Goodbye

One specific wrinkle of the sports betting legislation proposed by the tribes is that all such activity – should it become legal – would be limited to venues owned by tribes. The reason behind this, tribe explain, is that for years, Native American gaming venues have been contributing generously to the state’s economy. They cited numbers to back this claim. As per 2016 data, the tribes have:

  • Created 124,300 jobs
  • Paid $9bn in wages
  • Contributed $3.4bn in taxes

Another specific they added was protecting betting at horse tracks and therefore making sure that the 17,000-odd employees in the sector wouldn’t lose their jobs.

All Those in Favor Say ‘Aye’

California Nations Indian Gaming Association Chairman Steve Stallings praised the proposal and argued that it was a well-thought-through move towards the legalization of the sports betting industry:

A strong, well-regulated gaming industry is of utmost importance to California’s tribal governments and the public. This initiative allows sports wagering in a responsible manner and provides for transparency and strict regulation.

In the meantime, California Assemblyman Adam Gray has been tinkering with the idea of also leading to gaming expansion in the state – a move historically opposed by the tribes who have been complaining of the state’s cardrooms.

Native American tribes are in a good position to make sports betting happen, but they wouldn’t help cardrooms get in on the action – not one bit.


As an avid follower of sports and the newly recognized industry of esports, Heidi uses her expertise to help the team push out the best sports content. She is also continually learning more about the gambling industry in general and pushes out a variety of content.

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