Two dudes who sold an online gaming platform to a Nevada casino giant believe that they have the winning formula for a ballot measure that legalizes sports betting at tribal casinos in California, and they say they're willing the bankroll the whole thing.
As we reported earlier, voters in California may face another assault-by-ads next year, similar to the barrage we faced in 2022, as another ballot measure to legalize sports betting is hoping to get on the ballot in a general election year. A few weeks back, the entities behind the ballot initiative were still hiding in the shadows, but they have no emerged, and they're sounding pretty confident in their chances of getting something passed in 2024.
The two guys behind the latest effort — which came in the form of two proposed ballot measures filed with the state, only one of which will ultimately be seeking signatures — are Reeve Collins and Kasey Thompson. As Bay Area News Group reports, the pair launched online gaming platform Pala Interactive a decade ago, in partnership with the San Diego-based Pala Band of Mission Indians. Both men are likely well off now, after a deal closed last November to sell Pala Interactive to Nevada casino giant Boyd Gaming Corporation for $170 million.
Thompson is a former (current?) high-stakes poker player who describes himself on Instagram (his handle is "wolfofpoker") as a "founder of amazing companies." Just before the pandemic lockdowns, on March 9, 2020, Thompson posted a photo of himself in a private jet with DJ Steve Aoki and Brody Jenner, captioned, "What really happens at 40,000ft when you give @steveaoki and @brodyjenner a ride home...:)"
Collins, meanwhile, describes himself on LinkedIn as "a long-standing pioneer in both digital marketing and the Bitcoin/Blockchain space."
Now, Collins and Thompson hope to win over a majority of the 52 federally recognized tribal governments in California, and get them onboard with a new ballot initiative to open up sports betting at all tribal casinos — something that the casinos would then profit from.
How this is all structured isn't clear, but Thompson confidently tells Bay Area News Group that "this is the best proposal [the tribes have] ever seen."
"The legalization of sports wagering has been a contentious battle in the past, but if the proposition is structured properly and has significant tribal support, 2024 will be the year it passes," says Collins, speaking to the news group.
The pair also hope to win over the tribes by showing them that there is all upside for them in this deal — the two men and their partners are bankrolling the ballot-measure effort, and the tribes only stand to profit, they say.
"If I’m willing to fire $25 million in a few weeks, it shows I’m pretty prepared for this," Thompson tells the news group, regarding the money involved in getting such an effort off the ground, and gathering signatures to get on the ballot.
The two proposed measures, according to documents filed in late October with the Attorney General’s Office, are called "Tribal Gaming Protection Act" and "Sports Wagering Regulation and Tribal Gaming Protection Act". Both would legalize sports betting through the tribes only, but the latter measure includes a framework for how the state would do so.
Thompson said that waiting until the last minute to file the proposed initiatives was strategic, in order to keep any competing measures from sneaking in. But tribal leaders have already expressed some dismay at the fact that they were not consulted first, given how they will have to be involved in any winning ballot measure.
Victor Rocha of the Pachanga Band of Indians, who is conference chairman of the Indian Gaming Association, proclaimed on X two weeks ago "this thing is so dead," and said, "These idiots actually sent a letter to California tribal leaders asking them not to talk to the press until they had a chance to talk to leadership. How stoopid is that?"
Rocha has since said that tribes will take "an incremental approach" to sports gambling, and they aren't interested in another ballot measure like this.
The Indian Gaming Association also put out a statement saying, "While the sponsors of these initiatives may believe they know what is best for tribes, we encourage them to engage with Indian Country and ask, rather than dictate."
Still, Thompson said that he expects the tribes to be won over in the coming weeks as they learn more details. And if this thing plows forward, we can look forward to another onslaught of ads about this.
In 2022, over $360 million was spent on the Yes and No campaigns for the competing Props 26 and 27. Both went down in flames at the ballot box, with the one measure that involved the tribes directly doing only slightly better.
The two initiatives split tribes across the state, and the ensuing barrage of contradictory ads, all of which implied they had the backing of tribes, only served to confused and annoy voters more.
Mobile betting apps FanDuel and DraftKings, which sponsored one of last year's initiatives, could also see this as a money-grab in one of the biggest markets in the U.S., and it seems possible they could step in and bankroll a negative campaign against any ballot measure that they are left out of.
Photo: Baishampayan Ghose/Wikimedia