Indian Country Today
From coast to coast, it’s one of the latest trends sweeping the nation. And no, it’s not a TikTok dance or another social media challenge.
It’s sports betting.
Since the Supreme Court legalized sports betting in the 2018 landmark case, it has slowly but surely increased. While many states only allow in-person betting, more than two dozen states plus Washington, D.C., have made sports betting legal, according to a tracker from the Action Network.
Earlier this month, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill legalizing daily sports fantasy and sports betting in the state and last Friday Florida announced an agreement reached between the Seminole Tribe of Florida and Gov. Ron DeSantis to bring the action there.
The story continues in Washington state where the Tulalip Tribes also came to an sports wagering agreement to amend the gaming compact with the northwestern state. Legislation in Alabama is moving along, too.
In Arizona, the bill allows betting on professional and college sports at sites owned by professional sports teams and at tribal casinos. It also allows gambling on fantasy sports and new Keno games at horse race tracks and fraternal organizations.
Passage of the legislation is tied to the updated gaming compact Ducey has struck with tribes but has not released to the public.
In his January State of the State address, Ducey announced "an opportunity for a modernized gaming compact that will bring in more revenue for our tribal nations and our state budget." The governor has been working on a new deal with tribes for several years, hoping it can boost state revenue by allowing gambling outside of tribal-run casinos.
Tribes would also get 10 licenses and could run sports books at two dozen tribal casinos in the state.
The tribes, which have fiercely protected their exclusive right to most gambling in the state under the gaming compact approved by the state's voters in 2002, get the right to build some new casinos under an updated deal. And in a big win, they would also be allowed to greatly expand their exclusive gambling offerings, adding games like Baccarat and craps to existing offerings of slot machines, blackjack and poker.
Both the legislation and a 20-year extension of the state's gaming compact with tribes must be adopted for either to go into effect.
The amount of new revenue the state could receive hasn't been officially estimated, but Rep. Jeff Weninger, a Republican who sponsored the bill, said it could easily exceed $100 million per year for the general fund.
Stephen Hart, counsel for the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise and a former Director of the Arizona Department of Gaming, described sports betting as an amenity and the compact at large was the most important piece of everything announced.
“The real important transaction here is the gaming compact itself, and the gaming compact has a lot of benefits for Indian tribes, the Navajo Nation certainly but other Indian tribes as well,” Hart said.
In a statement after the announcement by Ducey, Hart described the process as both challenging and rewarding.
“It has taken more than five years to expand and modernize Arizona’s gaming compact,” Hart said. “The new compact will enhance the economies of the tribal nations in Arizona and will pave the way for business investment and job creation.”
Getting newly negotiated compacts is no easy lift, in many states they must be ratified and authorized by the state legislature. In Florida the current session is winding down and a special session may need to be called in order to get it across the finish line.
In a statement to the Miami Herald, Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr. thanked the governor and members of the state legislature for working with the tribe and called the agreement historic.
“The Seminole Tribe of Florida is committed to a mutually-beneficial gaming compact with the State of Florida and looks forward to its approval by the Florida Legislature, the Seminole Tribal Council and the U.S. Department of the Interior,” Osceola said.
The new compact will generate $2.5 billion in new revenue for the state in the next five years and more than $6 billion through 2030, DeSantis said on social media.
“This historic compact expands economic opportunity, tourism and recreation, and bolsters the fiscal success of our state in one fell swoop for the benefit of all Floridians and Seminoles alike,” DeSantis wrote. “Thank you to Tribe Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr., President Wilton Simpson and Speaker Chris Sprowls for your collective commitment to modernizing the gaming industry in the state of Florida and setting the bar for the rest of the nation.”
There are multiple ways in which sports betting can be executed.
It can be run by the state lottery system, as it is done in Montana and Washington, D.C., allowed only on-site in sportsbooks at brick-and-mortar facilities, or a combination of on-site and internet wagering on apps and sites such as Fanduel, DraftKings, BetMGM, etc.
While the initial announcement of the gaming compact amendment in Washington state specifically mentioned the Tulalip Tribes, it likely won’t apply solely to them.
Chris Stearns, Navajo, said it is up to the other tribes in the state whether or not to adopt the amendment. He is a city councilmember for the city of Auburn and the former chair of Washington State Gambling Commission.
“We have in Washington, the rule is what they call ‘most favored nation,’” Stearns said. “So, any tribe can take another tribe's compact or an appendix, but they have to take the whole thing.”
Even though sports betting is the new, shiny toy in the gaming industry, it doesn’t represent any real threat to takeover slots and table games like blackjack and craps; those remain the kings.
Yet, sports gaming is the newest gambling product in decades, Stearns said, which puts everyone at an equal playing field.
“Tribes are starting off on the same foot as everyone else but that also means they're as good as everyone else, there's really no differentiation,” Stearns said. “What the tribes can do and what can happen in New Jersey or Pennsylvania, the tribes have just as great a product for the people in their states.”
The golden egg that many states try to get their sports betting up and running in time is for the collegiate and professional football seasons. In 2015 alone, the American Gaming Association estimated more than $95 billion was wagered on college and the NFL.
Those numbers may be much higher due to the sports gaming legalization boom in wake of the Supreme Court decision.
The total sports handle (amount of money wagered over a period of time) seems astronomical, but much of money is recycled. That means bettors are likely to re-wager money won on previous games.
As more and more states adopt sports betting laws, one of the benefits is there is more funding and awareness for problem gambling. The black market of offshore accounts and bookies may never be completely wiped out, but the legal sports betting ecosphere is much safer for the consumer.
Some of the tools mobile and internet apps provide include setting deposit limits, capping the number of bets you can make over a set period of time or the amount you can wager in one day.
In fact, gambling disorder became diagnosable in 2013 which was an important step in order to help treat it. There is also a national hotline for problem gambling, 1-800-gambler.
“In many respects, countries, states and tribes are catching up and only because the science itself is catching up,” Stears said. “The more we learn about it, the more important it becomes to offer resources to help people become more responsible gamblers.”
A new bettor may need to look up a sports betting glossary as well. There are a number of terms unique to sports betting: over/under, spread, moneyline, parlay and much, much more.
It seems that it is only a matter of time before some form of regulated sports gambling is available in all 50 states. It’s up to individual tribes to use it as a tool to amend current gaming compacts or renegotiate them entirely.
As it currently stands, sports betting is a pie everyone is looking to get a slice of.
The Associated Press contributed to this report