Upholding Promises: The Imperative Role of Tribal Involvement in California’s Sports Betting Future

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As California teeters on the cusp of embracing sports betting, the dialogue surrounding its implementation has overlooked a pivotal aspect of the state’s gambling fabric — the indispensable role and historical promises made to its tribal communities. As a dual representative, both as a tribal member and an elected member of the California Assembly, I am positioned uniquely to shed light on an often-misunderstood chapter of California’s history, which remains crucial as we navigate the potential introduction of sports betting.

Nearly 25 years ago, California’s tribes made a pioneering move, harnessing federal policies to bolster self-reliance and embark on a path that would forever alter the landscape of both tribal communities and the state at large. The compact established in 1999 was more than a legal agreement; it was a covenant with the people of California, ensuring gaming operations were confined to federally recognized tribal lands and conducted with the utmost integrity, benefiting not just the tribes but the broader community.

This commitment has been the cornerstone of tribal gaming in California, transforming it into a beacon of responsible and community-centric enterprise. The overwhelming support from Californians, reflected in the affirmative votes for propositions amending the state constitution to favor tribal gaming, underscores the deep-seated trust and reciprocal respect between the tribes and the people of California — a trust we are determined to uphold.

The specter of sports betting introduces a complex new dynamic to California’s gaming ecosystem, promising significant revenue streams with the potential to address some of the most pressing challenges facing both Native American communities and the wider population. These challenges range from domestic violence and mental health issues to housing crises and the alarming rates of missing and murdered Indigenous women. These pressing concerns are more than statistics; they represent ongoing struggles that require immediate and substantial resources to mitigate.

It is within this context that the discussion around sports betting in California gains critical importance. The principles that have underpinned tribal gaming — responsibility, community benefit, and adherence to the initial promises — must also guide the integration of sports betting. This isn’t merely a matter of legalizing a new form of gambling; it’s about ensuring any expansion of gaming is in harmony with the foundational values and commitments that have steered tribal gaming from its inception.

As California stands at this crossroads, it is paramount that we not only recall but also honor the lessons of the past. The commitments made to and by California’s tribes have paved the way for a model of gaming that prioritizes community welfare and responsible stewardship. As we contemplate the future of sports betting, let us proceed with the same level of care, ensuring that any developments respect the enduring promises made to the tribes and uphold the welfare of all Californians.

The dialogue surrounding sports betting must recognize the indelible contributions of tribal gaming to California’s social and economic fabric. As stewards of this legacy, we owe it to future generations to maintain the integrity of these commitments, ensuring that sports betting, should it materialize, enriches California in a manner that is respectful, responsible, and reflective of our shared values.