California Bettin’ on iGaming Gold Rush

With the spectacular success of recently launched online sports betting in New York, all eyes are now turned to California, the Golden State, to yield the next big payout in the iGaming boom rolling across America.

Yet the scene is mightily complicated on the fabled West Coast, where all gambling rights were ceded to local Indian tribes by a state referendum in 2000.

And perhaps not surprisingly, given the riches at stake, the tribes—led by the Luiseno Rincon Band, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians and the Wilton Rancheria—are determined to maintain their grip on all iterations of the gambling industry.

Backed by a US$100 million (£74.7m/€89.5m) war chest, they’ve formed a pressure party called ‘Californians for Tribal Sovereignty and Safe Gaming’ that aims to control all retail and online sports betting by making it accessible only through gaming houses and servers sited on Indian land – and thereby shut out DraftKings, Fan Duel, and other national heavy-hitters who are looking to mine the new Californian iGaming gold rush.

Last year DraftKings and FanDuel were joined by Bally’s, BetMGM, Penn National Gaming, and other sportsbook operators, who formed their own iGaming band in an attempt to break the tribal monopoly on gambling.

These operators, who are offering to pay a flat tax rate of 10 per cent on sports betting, have until this May 3 to get the requisite one million signatures from California voters needed to change current betting laws.

Meantime, the Native American tribes have countered with their own petition to get an ‘Age-Verified Tribal Online and In-person Sports Wagering Regulatory Act’ on the statute books.

This would extend their power over the state’s gambling industry and give them total control also of any newly introduced online and retail sports betting.

If the indigenous peoples win, sports betting in the Golden State, population 39 million people, which would rank as the world’s fifth richest nation if it were a country, could launch as soon as September next year – subject to approval by the federal Department of the Interior.

Nelson Rose, a professor at top-100 US Whittier College, in southern California, and an expert on gambling law and public policy, believes the advent of iGaming and retail sports betting in the state is nigh.

“Oh, sure,” he predicts. “It’s not only coming, it’s going to be coming pretty soon. California is just too lucrative a market for the sports gambling industry to ignore.”

The market, professor Rose believes, will probably hit a handle of around US$30 billion a year (£22.4bn/€26.9bn).

And so it seems that Californians looking to mine a seam of golden gaming, or just have plain fun, will soon be able to forgo the trek to neighbouring Nevada and enjoy legal sports betting at home.

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