“There are threats and opportunities for tribes and our industry that call for tribal unity”

CNIGA James Siva

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Speaking at the Western Indian Gaming Conference this February, CNIGA’s recently elected chairman, James Siva, gave the association’s annual state of the nations address and discussed its endorsement of the tribal initiative to legalise sports wagering.

Though it might sound cliché, in unity we are indeed much stronger. California’s tribes have done amazing things when there is a unity of purpose. California’s 110 federally recognised tribes, easily the most of any state in the nation, represent a staggering array of disparate cultures, languages and territories. As such a diverse group we will only rarely have 100 percent agreement on any given issue. But it’s important to earn broad consensus on matters that affect us all and that we come together in the face of external and existential threats.

I will not mince words, we are the survivors of a genocide and it is because of the resilience and determination of our ancestors that we are even here today. When tribes united, we reversed the termination era, solidifying then, and hopefully forever, a collection of sovereign governments within the framework of the United States who justly enjoy the rights and privileges that entails.

Although we maintained our sovereignty, given the remote nature of the lands that we were forced to accept, we still had little economic recourse. So again, tribes banded together, starting right here in California with the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians as well as my own Morongo Band of Mission Indians, to fight for our right to conduct gaming on our own lands. It was because of this larger unity of purpose, that we fought the state of California all the way to the Supreme Court where we came out victorious and changed the course of Indian Country forever. When we again faced hostility, tribes united to get Propositions 5 and 1A passed, the latter of which enshrined our exclusive right to conduct Class III gaming in the California Constitution.

This is not meant to be a history lesson; rather, it is to be reminded of past lessons and experiences to illuminate a path forward into the future. While those fights had their dissenters, and we must make clear that we respect the rights of any individual tribe to dissent, there was again a larger unity of purpose. And now, just as it has been since time immemorial, there are threats and opportunities for tribes and our industry that call for tribal unity.

Primary among these opportunities is sports wagering. Since the US Supreme Court authorised states to legalise sports betting in 2018, it was widely expected that California would permit the practice. Since tribes have exclusive rights to Class III gaming, it is not unreasonable to expect that legalisation involve us. The question then is, what will it look like for California as a whole?

Any expansion of gaming should be approached with caution and a thorough analysis of the impacts. While many are focusing on the economic impacts of legalisation, it is critical to measure the social impacts as well and make responsible decisions.

We reject calls to legalise the practice online. Make no mistake, tribes could easily profit from a statewide online sports wagering market, but we believe it is at too high a societal cost. Good public policy and maintaining the support of voters is far more important than making a few extra dollars. Problem gambling proliferation, underage gambling, and threats to established brick and mortar facilities are deep concerns for us and the voters that must not be taken lightly.

With the passage of Proposition 1A, tribes secured the exclusive right to offer Class III gaming on tribal lands. For decades, racetracks in California have been permitted to engage in pari-mutual racing, a form of sports wagering. As such, it was rational that these two entities be permitted to engage in sports wagering.

Limiting the practice to existing brick and mortar facilities accomplishes many things. First, it guarantees that the activities will be offered by licensed establishments who have a long history of regulatory compliance. Second, it guarantees that remote communities who surround our tribal reservations continue to benefit from the positive economic impact that tribal government gaming brings to rural regions all across California. And most importantly, it provides safeguards for problem gambling and underage gambling prevention.

Strong public policy and responsible government gaming are driving factors in Indian Country. It is for this reason that I am honoured to announce that the California Nations Indian Gaming Association has officially endorsed the tribal initiative to legalise sports wagering. We believe this is the most responsible approach for both tribal governments and the state of California.

Tribes have a great stake in ensuring a fair and prosperous future in California. Ours is a unique industry, one rooted to our lands and our culture. Ours is not an itinerant group of random individuals seeking fortune that come to an area to set up shop and then move down the road when the money is made and the grass over the next hill is greener. We are right where we have always been since time immemorial. Ours is an industry based on the inherent sovereign rights of our governments. We are proud that our industry has brought commerce to otherwise remote areas and provided a way for tens of thousands of our California neighbours to put down deep roots in these communities as well. This is what works best, tribe helping tribe and neighbour helping neighbour. We face challenges ahead, but we are each rooted to this place. The best and only way to get through these challenges is together.

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