Not All Tribes Hostile to Sports Betting

The attitude of gaming tribes towards legalizing sports betting in the U.S. is not monolithic. But many tribes consider lifting the ban to be an attack on their sovereign right to offer gaming. New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone (l.) is drafting a bill that would give tribes the right to offer sports betting within their own state compacts.

Tribes are not so hostile as many of them once were to the idea of legalizing sports betting. At least some of them.

Legal Sports Report ran a story last week about Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey who is drafting a bill in Congress that would recognize tribal authority and the fact that if sports betting is legalized it would impact rights guaranteed by tribal state gaming compacts. About 244 federally recognized tribes operate casinos in 29 states.

Some tribes have found a lot to like in Pallone’s legislation. The bill contains a provision that nothing “shall be construed as altering, limiting or extending” state law or tribal-state regulatory agreements, or compacts, governing the operation of casinos on tribal lands.” It also stipulates that nothing in it would alter guarantees provided to tribes in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA.)

Current federal law (Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act or PASPA) bans sports betting except for four states. New Jersey, which is not one of the four, is suing to overturn the law, claiming that it is discriminatory. Its suit has reached the U.S. Supreme Court, and several states have filed amicus briefs supporting New Jersey.

Several states are contemplating the possibility of that Congress might repeal the law, and Indian tribes have found themselves sometimes on opposing sides on the issue. Some feel existing compacts are threatened. Some see an opportunity for tribes to get into sports betting.

Recently the National Indian Gaming Association joined a coalition, which includes the American Sports Betting Coalition, that is pressing for legalization—but without taking an official stand. It joined the group so tribal interests would be represented.

National Indian Gaming Association, on the other hand, opposes the coalition’s support of the concept that states have as much right to operate gaming as Indian tribes, which many tribes claim is a basic indigenous right under IGRA.

ASBC advocates giving states the right to decide the question of legalization. It also supports ensuring the integrity of sports betting and sports through state licensing and regulation. It wants to make such endeavors transparent to law enforcement and ensure that taxation of the activity doesn’t destroy its ability to compete with offshore bookies.

IGRA’s goals are narrower: to protect tribal rights and reserve gaming to tribes.

The American Gaming Association (AGA) supports Pallone’s bill. Nine tribes, which also support his bill, are members of AGA, whose members are largely commercial gaming interests. It claims it is not attempting to infringe on tribal rights or tribal state gaming compacts.

Geoff Freeman, president of American Gaming Association in an email wrote last week that under the proposed law, “States would have the opportunity to choose whether the activity should be regulated within their borders – it does not necessarily mean that they are the regulator and it certainly doesn’t mean that they can violate existing exclusivity agreements. Any suggestion to the contrary is fear mongering.”

Some tribal officials assert this means AGA wants to turn over sports betting to states. They say that means most tribes will oppose the bill.

Steve Stallings, chairman of California Nations Indian Gaming Association, is leery of giving that kind of power to states.

“Absolutely not,” he told Legal Sports Report. “A lot of states don’t have governments friendly to tribes.”

Morongo Band of Mission Indians Chairman Robert Martin agrees and adds, “I wouldn’t consider states’ rights with any issue. Our tribe has always worked at a federal level.”

NIGA felt some heat when it joined the coalition in July, especially when it was erroneously reported that NIGA endorsed the repeal of PASPA. NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens defended that decision, telling Legal Sports Report “As one of the key stakeholders in these discussions we want to ensure that, if legalized, our members have the opportunity to offer this activity as part of their overall entertainment package and as an additional source of revenue for tribal government gaming to promote tribal economic development, tribal self-sufficiency and strong tribal government.”

Some criticize even that much cooperation by NIGA because it gives AGA the chance to claim that has tribal support when it lobbies congressional delegations.

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