September 10, 2021 Tribal, Land-Based

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The National Indian Gaming Association expo ushered in the comeback for in-person events in the gaming industry, and Michael Bartlett was there to get a sense of what happened and what we can expect as the calendar fills up again.

Anticipation for NIGA this year built for a long time once it was cleared to be held in-person again. It’s been a long, hard road for the events sector, one that the industry heavily relies on. We adapted where we could, but meeting face to face, albeit sometimes masked, was always going to be the preferred way of engaging and conducting business.

The opening day of the show featured a series of deep dives on the rise of tribal sports betting. Included were panels of representatives from tribes in Arizona, Washington and California. The first two of which are trying to get all the regulatory details resolved in time to go live with sports wagering in September to capture the start of football season, while the third is gearing up for the November 2022 election, when at least one ballot initiative, and possibly several, will be offered to voters. 

Tribal officials from Arizona, with 23 tribes in the state, noted the state has instituted a bifurcated licensing system, with 10 licenses to be awarded to sports teams or leagues, and 10 to tribes.

Robert Miguel, chairman of the Ak-Chin Indian Community’s Tribal Council, said, “The details are being negotiated as we speak. Some tribes might have to partner with other tribes. It will be challenging. We will see what happens.”

Rebecca George, executive director of the Washington Indian Gaming Association (WIGA), said Governor Jay Inslee signed legislation legalizing sports betting in the Evergreen State in March 2020, but implementation was derailed by the pandemic.

“Everything we have done is preparing us to be ready by September,” George explained. “September is still the goal, but there might be some issues that delay it. At NIGA several people told me there are supply chain issues with the equipment manufacturers.”

Scott Crowell, attorney with the Crowell Law Office in Sedona, Arizona, has represented a number of tribes in negotiating compacts. He said a statewide ballot measure that would amend the California constitution has been approved by the Secretary of State for the November 2022 ballot. The initiative, which is supported by the state’s tribes, would allow sports betting at all tribal facilities and the four racetracks in the Golden State.

“What’s important to know is it does not include a mobile component,” Crowell said. “The ballot measure was originally circulated with the intent of getting on the 2020 ballot, but then the pandemic hit. What we anticipate, but do not yet know, is if there will be competing measures and what they will look like.”

Crowell expects commercial cardrooms in California will attempt to get a measure on the ballot, and he anticipates some committees in the legislature might propose a measure.

“I expect there is a strong likelihood of at least one, if not competing mobile wagering measures on the November 2022 ballot,” he said.

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