Carina Dominguez
Indian Country Today

Tribal gaming experts across the nation are monitoring the situation closely with excitement and skepticism.

More than half of the country is currently offering sports betting in some form, with even more states expected to offer it in 2022 and 2023.

Ten states are offering in-person sports wagers only, with an additional 11 offering full mobile betting with multiple options and six others have limited mobile betting options, according to Action Network.

Connecticut is keeping non-governmental entities out

Last week sports betting got underway in Connecticut at the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods casinos.

First bets were placed Sept. 30 after the state Department of Consumer Protection approved licenses for the two casinos, allowing sports betting on tribal lands.

“Today we celebrate a new era for our Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, sports fans, Foxwoods guests and the Connecticut residents,” Chairman Rodney Butler said in a statement. “With the NFL season in full force, it’s game on, and we look forward to a successful launch.”

Four months ago Connecticut state lawmakers approved an agreement reached between Gov. Ned Lamont and the state’s two federally recognized tribes, which allowed amendments to the state’s gambling agreements.

The new agreement allows the state lottery to enter sports betting but gives the two tribes exclusive rights to online gaming, where the burgeoning demand in the industry is.

It also outlines the state’s share of revenues from sports betting, online gambling and online fantasy sports.

State Sen. John Kissel, a Republican, said he was concerned with passing the measures hastily.

“(In) the land of steady habits, I’d rather walk instead of run. I don’t see a race here,” Kissel said. “We’re behind other states as it is, I’d rather get it right.”

In Arizona, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey enacted a law on an emergency basis to open up sports betting to non-tribal entities the day the NFL season kicked off.

The bill outlines 10 licenses to the state’s 22 federally recognized tribes and 10 to non-tribal entities — ensuring all sports leagues in the state could receive a license including NASCAR and PGA events.

Those team licenses allow retail and online sports betting, with lucrative online sports betting going on right now, but not a single one of those online wagers have yet to be placed on tribal lands, one tribal gaming expert said.

Victor Rocha in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by ICT)

Victor Rocha, Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, is the founder of Victor Strategies — a tribal gaming consulting firm — and said the rollout of sports betting across the nation is an existential fight for tribal gaming, noting how crucial it is to monitor how each state is going about it.

The Mohegan Tribe is partnering with FanDuel for its sportsbook and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe partnered with DraftKings.

The Mohegan Sun FanDuel Sportsbook is taking bets at four live betting windows or through 50 self-service betting terminals.

At the Foxwoods Resort Casino, DraftKings is operating a temporary sportsbook where in person wagers can be placed, along with betting kiosks throughout the casino.

Online sports betting and iGaming is expected to start statewide in the coming weeks, once regulatory approvals are in place.

The Connecticut Lottery Corporation is gearing up to allow retail and online sports betting in October and will operate 15 retail sportsbooks locations.

Showing an abundance of caution, the Mohegan Tribe recently announced it would suspend wagering on all WNBA games after questions were raised about a potential conflict of interest, since the tribe owns the Connecticut Sun team and was accepting bets on the games, through its third-party partner FanDuel, on the same property.

Arizona is opening the industry’s floodgates

In Arizona, sports betting launched on Sept. 9 at Chase Field with former Diamondbacks player Luis Gonzalez encouraging bets on his former team, noting the odds for the 2001 World Series win.

Chase Field is the first Major League Baseball stadium allowing fans to place in-person bets. Despite the organization also managing the team and taking bets on the same property, through its third-party partner, it has avoided the same level of scrutiny the Mohegan Sun received.

Shawn Klein, a sports ethicist at Arizona State University, said transparent firewalls should be in place to ensure team management and those setting the lines don’t influence each other.

The Arizona Diamondbacks declined to comment.

“It’s scary to me. It’s not a test run. It’s not a drill. It’s the real thing,” Rocha said about the rollout of sports betting across the country. He’s particularly concerned with online wagers.

On the first day Arizona raked in a staggering amount of online transactions, exceeding expectations.

“The level of demand across new markets such as Arizona indicates that consumers have long waited for the option to legally place a sports bet,” GeoComply Managing Director Lindsay Slader said.

GeoComply Solutions is widely used in the industry to verify customers’ location and the company reported more than 6.1 million geolocation transactions from more than 271,000 accounts created in Arizona on its first day.

“The giant has woken up. Tribes have had 20 years for gaming and now all the teams want sports betting,” Rocha said.

“With something like this you always want to see responsibility. This will bring additional revenue, which is needed across our state and in tribal communities and you also need balance and responsibility with something like this,” Ducey said at the ceremonial first bets at Chase Field.

The Diamondbacks have a partnership with Caesars for its sportsbook and is temporarily taking in-person bets out of ticket windows while a space adjacent to the stadium is being renovated. It’s set to open early next year.

Arizona has 22 federally recognized tribes and the Arizona Department of Gaming selected only 10 for operator licenses — as outlined in H.B. 2772, the emergency measure that authorizes sports betting beyond tribal lands.

Tribal gaming consultants questioned the selection process for the 10 tribal licensees.

Only tribes that signed the most recent gaming compact were eligible to apply, and the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe was not one of them.

The tribe sued the state, seeking to block the new law but a judge refused to issue an injunction. It argued the new law violated Proposition 202 which restricted gambling outside of tribal reservations.

The Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe updated and filed an amended complaint early last week, arguing an expansion of gaming should be passed through a voter initiative, not through the legislative process.

The tribe’s attorney, Luis Ochoa, said he’s hopeful that the issues will be resolved with the state.

“A lot of [Arizona] tribes are really happy with that deal. If tribes are happy, we should support them,” Rocha said.

Tribes work to maintain exclusivity in pending states

Some tribes are still working towards maintaining exclusive rights to sports betting in their respective states.

In Florida, the Seminole tribe announced a deal with the state that would allow retail and online sports betting but are facing several lawsuits and logistical hurdles.

Seminole casinos are expected to roll out sportsbooks in mid October. The tribe anticipates launching a Hard Rock Digital statewide app but it’s facing several lawsuits which could delay the launch.

In California, tribes will likely get rights to sports betting on tribal lands and so could privately owned horse racing tracks.

California tribes successfully pushed a 2022 ballot measure, which could allow them to offer in-person sports betting in 2023 but not online wagers. The state is expected to have the most lucrative online sports betting market.

Disney is betting on the industry through its subsidiary ESPN, with an executive announcing its plans to get “aggressive” about expanding its presence in sports wagering. The company is looking to license its ESPN brand for $3 billion, according to The Wall Street Journal.

In 2018, New Jersey won a U.S. Supreme Court case that cleared the way for all states to adopt legal sport betting. 

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