Published: June 27, 2024

The U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding a ruling allowing a tribal and state compacts to include statewide online gaming eases their path for adoption

The U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding a ruling allowing a tribal and state compacts to include statewide online gaming won’t impact the timeline of California tribes pursuing sports betting in the future, but eases their path for adoption, tribal leaders said Wednesday.

The Indian Gaming Association hosted its New Normal podcast to talk about last week’s ruling by the high court, which decided not to take up a challenge of a D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling. The lower court in 2023 allowed tribal-offered online wagering off reservations, saying that it didn’t violate the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act approved by Congress in 1988. The opponents, West Flagler Associates and the Bonita-Fort Myers Corp., a racetrack and poker room operator, challenged the state of Florida granting sports-betting exclusivity to the Seminole Tribe.

The decision, which sent shockwaves through the gaming industry, could pave the way for significant expansion of tribal gaming into sports betting and online casinos, analysts have suggested.  Victor Rocha, a California trial member and chairman of the IGA’s annual conference and tradeshow who moderated Wednesday’s podcast, called the recent actions "a game changer” for tribes.

During the podcast, Jason Giles, executive director of the IGA, dismissed suggestions from Wall Street analysts and others that the decision allows states like California to pursue sports betting without a change in the state Constitution through voters.

James Siva, chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, was noncommittal on a date when tribes will return to voters to change the California Constitution by seeking approval for tribes to offer sports betting.

"I know there’s a lot of excitement over this decision and it was the right decision, but people think we’re going to start having a push for new initiative immediately (in California),” Siva said. "Luckily, we have a CNIGA meeting coming up this week and everyone realizes we’ll continue on the path we’ve been taking the last few years, moving carefully and methodically. This opens up some new avenues for us, but our timeline remains the same even with this decision.”

Giles asked if that meant 2026, but Siva didn’t give a date. Tribes have relied on public polling to help guide their decisions. Some observers have suggested it could be 2028 or 2030.

Since it will be a new form of gaming under IGRA, Siva said that 60% of revenue must go to tribal-government functions that serve members, such as health care.

"The approach by those billion-dollar corporations, wanting to leave crumbs on the table for tribes and take the majority of revenue out of the state, was never going to work for us,” Siva said. "This decision makes it a little easier. It’s going to be complicated, difficult, and expensive, but there’s a little bit more clarity today.”

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