You can forgive some industry observers for opining that the tribal gaming community has yet to fully embrace sports wagering.

After all, this stance is understandable given the fact that the largest tribal gaming marketplace in the land—California—has yet to legalize sports wagering. This could all change by November however, after a coalition of 18 Native American tribes was given state approval to begin circulating petitions for a statewide ballot initiative that would allow sports betting at tribal casinos, according to the Los Angeles Times. 

“This is an important step in helping ensure sports wagering is restricted to adults over 21 at highly regulated and experienced locations,” Mark Macarro, tribal chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, which operates Pechanga Resort Casino, told the Los Angeles Times. “The measure will also result in new revenue for mental health programs and vital services like public safety and education.”

Whether the California sports betting initiative passes or not, the truth is that many gaming tribes across the U.S. are already involved with sports wagering in two significant ways—by operating actual land-based and online sportsbooks on one of the 14 states that already allow sports wagering, or though marketing and promotional partnerships with professional sports leagues and teams—arrangements that have become a lot more commonplace since the repeal  of PASPA and the liberalization of various league rules regarding business dealings with casino operations.

 

NEW YORK STATE OF MIND

For example, when sports betting legalization came to New York, among the first entities to open land-based sportsbooks were the state’s tribal gaming operators. Upon state approval of sports betting enabling legislation, the Saint Regis Mohawk-owned Akwesasne Mohawk Casino Resort inked a deal with The Stars Group that led to the construction and eventual opening of the Stick’s Sports Bar & Sportsbook, a 5,200-square-foot interactive venue that features a sports wagering lounge with high-definition video wall and 25 television screens. 

The deal between the casino and Stars Group also clears the way for the establishment of an online sports betting operation, once the state starts approves pending legislation for this type of operation, according to press materials. “With online betting and gaming solutions and FOX Bet and PokerStars brands, we believe The Stars Group is positioned to become a leader in the U.S. online betting and gaming industry—and our casino is excited to connect our sports enthusiasts with the next generation of interactive gaming,” said Todd Papineau, general manager of Akwesasne Mohawk Casino Resort.

The Seneca Gaming Corporation, owners of three gaming properties in New York, reached out to Kambi Group to install its portfolio of on-property sports wagering products at Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino in Niagara Falls, Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino in Buffalo, and Seneca Allegany Resort & Casino in Salamanca. According to a press release, all three casinos will benefit from Kambi’s modern, on-property sports wagering solutions, including its state-of-the-art betting kiosks, fully-configurable digital signage, free-to-play sportsbook product, and innovative Bring Your Own Device technology, which enables bettors to view lines and build bets on mobile for quick and easy placement at the property. 

The agreement also provides conditions for Kambi and its partner Bragg to provide the tribe with online and mobile sports wagering and casino, should lawmakers decide to regulate the activity in New York State. 

“We are so excited to bring sports betting to our guests. Seneca Resorts & Casinos remains steadfast in providing the latest and greatest offerings to our customers in entertainment, resort experience, and of course gaming,” said Holly Gagnon, president and CEO for Seneca Gaming Corporation. “This collaboration brings a whole new level of excitement.” 

Making perhaps the biggest tribal splash on the New York sports betting scene is the Oneida Indian Nation, which partnered with Scientific Games and Caesars Entertainment for its sportsbook operations. The tribe’s three gaming properties—Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, Point Place Casino in Bridgeport and Yellow Brick Road Casino in Chittenango are now home to “The Lounge at Caesars Sports”-branded sportsbooks. These venues feature LED terminals with high-definition resolution, state-of-the-art odds boards that constantly update and offer opportunities for in-game wagers, as well as new full-service bars, ticket windows, ultra-comfortable seating, and VIP areas with their own dedicated TV screens. 

All three sportsbooks are powered by Scientific Games OpenSports product suite. “We’re excited to be among the first to offer sports betting in New York and are confident in our ability to grow this market in the months and years ahead,” said Ray Halbritter, Oneida Nation representative and Nation Enterprises CEO. “The OpenSports solution allows us to focus on our guests while giving us a sturdy technological foundation on which we can build as the industry expands.”

Indeed, the sportsbook at Yellow Brick Road casino has proven so successful that the tribe decided to expanding the facility, adding a 19,400-square-foot entertainment venue that includes a six-lane Brunswick Bowling Center; two high-tech Topgolf Swing Suite bays; multiple pool tables; shuffleboard; sports-betting desk; 20 LED screens; and more than 65 additional slot machines. 

New York tribal casinos are not the only Native American gaming entities betting on land-based sports betting operations. Wind Creek Casino & Resort Bethlehem, Pa., has signed an agreement with Betfred to operate a sportsbook for its Pennsylvania customers. Subject to regulatory approval, Betfred will be offering Wind Creek Bethlehem customers their full sportsbook service at the casino as well as mobile and internet betting within the state of Pennsylvania.

 

PROFESSIONAL APPROACH

Even in jurisdictions where sports betting has yet to be legalized, tribes have been able to profit from growing sports popularity by signing enhanced marketing and promotional deals with professional teams, now that professional league rules regarding business relationships with wagering entities have been liberalized with the death of PASPA. 

For example, Mystic Lake Casino Hotel rolled out a brand-new Minnesota Vikings-themed gaming area on its casino floor to enhance its relationship with the team and its fans. The space—called the Vikings Party Pit—features Vikings-branded décor and blackjack tables with custom felts. Blackjack dealers in the area are outfitted in custom Vikings jerseys, and guests playing blackjack during Vikings games can win team merchandise and prizes. Guests experienced fun giveaways during Vikings games and a drawing at the end of the season for both Vikings and Mystic Lake prizes. 

“Mystic Lake’s first-of-its-kind, innovative relationship with the Minnesota Vikings is all about bringing excitement to guests and fans,” said Angela Heikes, president and CEO of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Gaming Enterprise, which operates Mystic Lake Casino Hotel and Little Six Casino. “The new dedicated, Vikings-themed space on our gaming floor, as well as activities at U.S. Bank Stadium, provide even more unique experiences for football fans.”

Also enhancing its relationship with pro sports teams was Santa Clara, Calif.-based Cache Creek Casino Resort and the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, which partnered with the San Francisco 49ers in a multiyear deal that includes presenting sponsorship of the 49ers pre- and post-game radio show on KNBR 680AM and throughout the 49ers Radio Network.

Other key elements of the arrangement include: an onsite guest engagement location; a robust co-branded media campaign, including TV/radio, digital media and in-stadium signage; and one-of-a-kind experiences for Cache Creek VIP guests, including alumni appearances. The partnership also provides an opportunity for the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, owners of Cache Creek Casino Resort, to share its premium Séka Hills brand of award-winning agricultural products with a broader audience.

“We are proud to partner with the San Francisco 49ers, which is clearly an iconic sports brand in Northern California with a rich history on the field and in the community,” said Anthony Roberts, tribal chairman for the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation. “We are certainly excited to help 49ers fans learn about Yocha Dehe’s long history here in Northern California, and introduce them to our Cache Creek and Séka Hills brands.” 

In addition to the San Francisco 49ers, Cache Creek maintains sports partnerships with other high-profile regional sports organizations, including the Oakland A’s, Golden State Warriors, San Jose Sharks and Sacramento Kings.

This is only a small sample of pro sports/tribal casino partnerships. Expect more such arrangements going forward.