Capitol Alert

Powerful casino tribes raise concerns with California fantasy sports bill

The sun sets on the Morongo Casino Resort Spa in Cabazon, Calif., in 2005. The leader of the wealthy Riverside County tribe has raised concerns about fantasy sports legislation.
The sun sets on the Morongo Casino Resort Spa in Cabazon, Calif., in 2005. The leader of the wealthy Riverside County tribe has raised concerns about fantasy sports legislation. AP

The daily fantasy sports industry’s string of easy wins in the California Legislature may be about to end.

The leaders of a pair of politically influential Southern California tribes with major casinos have sent letters to “express our concerns” to Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, the author of fast-moving legislation that would regulate popular daily fantasy sports games such as FanDuel and DraftKings.

In his Feb. 5 letter, Robert Martin, chairman of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians near Beaumont, questioned if the games, as critics claim, amount to illegal gambling. He added that Gray’s Assembly Bill 1437 would effectively reward the industry “with no repercussions for violating state law.”

“As you know, California’s gaming tribes have made significant contributions to the state and local economies by offering games that are legal under state and federal law,” Martin told Gray. “As such, our members are very concerned that a retroactive approval of a form of gaming that is otherwise illegal, simply because it is popular, is a very dangerous precedent.”

68-1 Final Assembly vote Jan. 27 to pass AB 1437

Lynn R.Valbuena, the chairwoman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians near San Bernardino, sent Gray a similarly worded letter Wednesday. The two tribes, along with several card clubs, have been part of a coalition that has backed legislation in recent years to license and regulate online poker. Compared to the hours of testimony about online poker, AB 1437 has had “very little vetting or deliberation,” Valbuena wrote the lawmaker.

Martin and Valbuena’s letters both reference the possibility that daily fantasy sports and online poker could be combined into a single Internet gambling measure because the issues share “many of these same questions.”

The letters suggest that both tribes – which contributed more than $400,000 to lawmakers last year – would formally oppose AB 1437 without changes, posing the first significant push-back to the legislation since it emerged last September. It blew through the Assembly last month with a total of two “no” votes and is pending in the Senate.

“We appreciate the perspective of the tribes, and look forward to working with the author to address their concerns when the legislation is considered in the Senate,” said Steve Maviglio, a spokesman for the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.

Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, who has said he believes there is no question that daily fantasy sports is gambling, opposed the bill in committee and again on the floor, making him an industry target in radio ads.

Editor’s note: This post was updated at 4:30 p.m. Feb. 10 to include comment from the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.

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