By Nick Sortal
As the possibility of legal U.S. sports betting inches toward becoming a reality, an interesting question is evolving in Indian country: Is this something we want at our casinos?
In December, the U.S. Supreme Court heard an appeal against the constitutionality of PASPA, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.
Gaming legal expert Daniel Wallach was in the courtroom during the hearing and estimates the judges will rule 6-3 in favor of sports gambling. Whether that’s a complete repeal of PASPA or a narrower ruling favoring New Jersey is yet to be determined, he says.
But the ruling could open the door for sports gambling nationwide, and Wallach says up to 14 other states could quickly follow. (It’s the pet topic of the American Gaming Association, which has members from both the commercial and the Native American casino industry.)
State legislators, who would be the ones determining sports betting regulations of PASPA is overturned, heard a very coy Jonodev Chaudhuri, chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission, during a talk in January in Miami at the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States.
“We have a standard line and it’s by no means a cop-out,” Chaudhuri says. “We stay in our lane. We’re not legislators, we’re regulators.”
But he notes that most of tribal facilities are small and barely make payroll—but provide essential revenue for the well-being of tribes,
“They’re basically jobs programs, located in rural communities,” he says.
Stand-alone sportsbooks or wagering activities integrated into bar and restaurant facilities could be limited to fewer than 100 of the approximately 480 tribal gambling operations in 28 states.
Just 16 percent of the tribal casinos—many in urban areas—generate 71.5 percent of the $31.2 billion industry, according to senior economist Alan Meister of Nathan Associates.
Those numbers are why the National Indian Gaming Association leaders say so far potential support is sharply divided as they gather input from its members.
“We need to find out if Indian Country is ready to move ahead if there is a full or partial repeal” of PASPA, Debbie Thundercloud, NIGA chief of staff, told Dave Palermo in an article for Legal Sports Report. “So far the reaction has been mixed.”
Palermo noted opposition to sports betting voiced by tribes in California, Minnesota and Washington. He forecasts support from the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the larger Oklahoma tribes, the two Connecticut tribes and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians in Alabama.
Some of the tribes also are questioning what piece of a larger package of possibilities, such as internet gaming, sports betting would play. There also are questions of tribal-state compacts, many of which have clauses that guarantee exclusivity.
Others challenge the profitability of sports betting. A sports book, run right, makes about 5 percent on the dollar. A bank of slot machines in the same space makes 8 to 10 percent, and the overhead of staffing, etc., is lower. But those favoring sports betting point to the fact that having live games and people with a vested interest will attract more patrons overall—and that would grow the bottom line.
At the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas in October, Mark Macarro, chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians in Southern California, said the casino industry is being oversold potential profits based largely on the estimates that some $150 billion is wagered in the United States illegally every year.
He compared the arrival of sports betting to online poker, which was subject to exaggerated revenue projections, he says.
“We need some new studies, we need some analytics, we need something quantifiable,” Macarro says.
Tribes need to come to some conclusions not only on sports betting, but other new and related forms of gambling such as internet wagering, online poker, daily fantasy sports and esports.
“That is a concern,” Thundercloud says. “It’s not just sports betting. It’s bigger than that.
“So many forms of internet gaming are moving ahead before many legal questions have been addressed,” Thundercloud says. “It is starting to be seen as a mechanism to drive people to the bricks and mortar sites. That’s more of where the business decisions are going to lie.”
The Native American gambling landscape, while it has blossomed, did not sprout up in an organized, systematic growth pattern. There were legal questions, decisions made tribe-by-tribe and adaptations to each and every local market. So, it follows that the addition of sports betting would follow in the same pattern: A piece here, and a piece there. So if you’re expecting to be on Indian land making a bet on the Patriots during the Tom Brady era, don’t hold your breath—unless he’s the coach or the owner. ♦
Connecticut casino fight intensifies
Several members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation are asking the federal Interior Department’s inspector general to launch an investigation into why a pair of Indian tribes are being prevented from opening a new casino, Politico has reported.
The article says the Interior Department hasn’t signed off on an agreement that would allow the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot Tribes to open a casino despite a federal deadline. The tribes are planning a $300 million casino project in the Hartford suburb of East Windsor.
The article raises questions about whether the delay is connected to lobbying by MGM Resorts International, which operates a nearby casino. The tribes and state of Connecticut are already suing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
Tribes unhappy with California regulators
American Indian tribes are fed up with what they say are illegal games in cardrooms and could sue, onlinepokerreport.com says.
The tribes say they plan to oppose sports betting and other expanded gambling in the state unless concerns about cardroom games and other issues are resolved.
“It’s time to quit messing around with these guys,” Bo Mazzetti, chairman of the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians, said of California gaming officials.
Social games launched
Hard Rock International and Seminole Gaming, both owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, announced the launch of online social games. The new games feature Hard Rock and Seminole Casino branded versions of what industry insiders call “social” games because payment is not required to enjoy the basic games and only virtual credits are awarded as prizes.
The games were developed as part of a contract with Greentube Internet Entertainment Solutions, a subsidiary of Novomatic Group. The games will run on the Greentube Pro platform and will be hardrocksocialcasino.com available in both desktop and mobile versions. The games on reflect the Hard Rock brand and allows players to link to their favorite U.S. Hard Rock Casinos. Free games include social versions of slot machines, blackjack and roulette. www.seminolesocialcasino.com
The social games website for Seminole Casinos, www.seminolesocialcasino.com, offers social games that mirror slot machines and table games, with tournament play and high limit room options available.