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California Tribes Urgently Yet Cautiously Move Towards Online Gaming



Balancing Progress and Preservation: California’s Tribal Leaders Navigate the Shift to Online Gaming

A Crucial Turning Point for California’s Tribal Gaming—At the recent Indian Gaming Tradeshow and Convention in Anaheim, a palpable sense of urgency mingled with a commitment to meticulous planning among California’s tribal leaders. These leaders are now poised to steer their communities through the transformative process of adopting online gaming. This strategic shift is driven by the necessity to secure a sustainable economic future and protect the heritage and prosperity of their tribes. With the landscape of gaming evolving rapidly, California’s tribes are faced with the dual challenge of embracing technological advancements while safeguarding their cultural and economic interests.

Historical Context and Current Shifts

For over a decade and a half, the idea of migrating to online gaming platforms did not seem urgent to California Indian tribes. However, recent developments in the gaming industry and increasing pressures from external commercial interests have sparked a change in perspective. Online gaming discussions, which began with online poker, have now expanded to encompass online sports betting, setting the stage for a broader inclusion of iGaming solutions.

The Need for a Deliberate Approach

During the panel discussions in Anaheim, tribal leaders emphasized the critical importance of controlling their transition to online platforms. Johnny Hernandez Jr., vice chairman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, articulated the collective concern: losing control over gaming could potentially reverse the economic gains that have lifted many tribal communities out of poverty. This underscores a broader theme of tribal sovereignty and self-determination in the face of new digital frontiers.

Addressing the Urgency: RSTF and Tribal Equity

The symposium also highlighted the plight of Revenue Sharing Trust Fund (RSTF) tribes, which receive a fixed annual sum that has not increased despite the growth in gaming revenues. Leaders like Daniel Salgado, former chairman of the Cahuilla Band of Indians, voiced an urgent call to action to use online gaming as a lever to elevate RSTF tribes from conditions comparable to those in developing countries. The discussion revealed a shared vision among tribal leaders to utilize online gaming revenues to rectify long-standing inequalities among California’s tribal communities.


Collaborative Efforts and Revenue Sharing Models

The path forward as discussed by tribal leaders involves developing a revenue-sharing model that benefits all tribes, particularly those without gaming facilities or in remote areas. Proposals like one previously suggested by the San Manuel tribe, which failed to qualify for the 2022 ballot, included allocating 15% of online sports betting tax revenue to RSTF tribes. This model showcases the tribes’ proactive stance in using online gaming not just for economic gain but as a tool for communal upliftment.

Strategic Patience and the Road Ahead

Despite the pressing need, tribal leaders are advocating for a strategic, measured approach to adopting online gaming. James Siva, vice chairman of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, and other prominent leaders stressed the importance of getting it right the first time. The stakes are high, as missteps could jeopardize the hard-earned progress made over decades of building a thriving tribal gaming industry.

Unity and the Challenge of Commercial Pressures

The panel consistently emphasized unity among tribes as the antidote to external pressures, particularly from commercial operators who might seek to divide and conquer for their own benefit. The unity is seen as essential not only for fostering a fair and equitable gaming environment but also for ensuring that the tribes remain at the forefront of decisions that affect their future.

Conclusion: A Cautious Yet Determined Path Forward

California’s tribal leaders are charting a course that balances the urgency to adapt to online gaming with the need to preserve the integrity and future of tribal gaming. By maintaining control over the development of online gaming laws and focusing on equitable revenue distribution, they aim to ensure that all tribal communities benefit from the digital evolution of gaming. As they move forward, the principles of unity, control, and careful planning remain their guiding lights, ensuring that the transition to online gaming is both successful and sustainable.


Keeping Informed

For stakeholders and observers, understanding these developments is crucial. Following the progress of legislation and tribal initiatives is essential for anyone involved in or affected by the gaming industry. As California’s tribes navigate these waters, their actions will likely set precedents for others across the United States.

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