California Native American Tribes Take Aim at DFS and Pick’em Operators

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A view of the downtown skyline with the snow-covered San Gabriel Mountains in the background in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Apu Gomes / AFP)

California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA) recently submitted a letter to the state’s Attorney General on behalf of the group’s 52 member tribes questioning the legality of daily fantasy sports and pick’em games that they believe too closely resemble sports betting.

Let’s explore the primary concerns of the tribe and consider their potential implications for the online sportsbooks industry.

Gray Area Gaming

California’s Native American tribes guard their gaming exclusivity jealously and have even shunned sports betting legislation knowing that a slew of major players in the U.S. mobile sports betting industry would be muscling their way in to get a piece of what would be the nation’s most lucrative sports betting market.

However, despite their efforts, non-tribal card rooms are prevalent in the Golden State, as are DFS operators. Recently, the California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA) turned its attention to daily fantasy sports (DFS) operators and those that offer pick’em games which, according to the CNIGA, are masquerading as sports betting props.

In October, California State Senator, Scott Wilk, also wrote to the state’s Attorney General questioning the legality of daily fantasy sports, stating that DFS “appears to be a game of chance not otherwise permitted by the laws of California.”

Attorney General’s Response

Instead of rendering an opinion, the AG solicited opinions from stakeholders asking, “Does California law prohibit the offering and operation of daily fantasy sports betting platforms with players physically located within the State of California, regardless of whether the operators and associated technology are located within or outside of the State?”

The Attorney General has not given a deadline for his answer on daily fantasy sports. When James Siva, chairman of CNIGA, was asked what he expected from the AG’s opinion on DFS and pick’em games, he quickly pivoted to what is perhaps a more pressing concern.

“It’s both surprising and concerning that the attorney general moved so quickly for comments on fantasy sports when the tribes have been asking for decades for comments on the illegal games at cardrooms.”

Pick’em Games Under Fire

Underdog Fantasy and Prize Picks are two DFS operators that rely heavily on the pick’em contests that resemble prop betting parlays.

Customers have a menu of over/under wagers in which they can select two or more in a parlay-style format. Some of those props would be, for example, Josh Jacobs O/U 94 rushing yards, which would be combined with one to five more over/under props. The more legs in the “parlay”, the more money will be won if all the bets cover the spread.

The CNIGA’s letter addresses this form of gambling in the Golden State.

“In the operation of these Pick’em Games, major operators, such as Underdog Fantasy and PrizePicks, have participants play against the ‘house,’ where the participant’s win is purely dictated by whether he or she correctly predicts the over-under outcome of each performance statistic for each of two or more athletes. This is not facilitating a game in which participants are pitting their fantasy ‘teams’ against one another’s teams, as is typically associated with the management of a fantasy sports team.”

Pick’em games have already been outlawed in Florida and Michigan, which was also pointed out in the letter as a precedent-setting legal argument.

“In reliance on laws similar to those of the State, the Florida Gaming Control Commission determined popular pick’em game operators, including PrizePicks and Underdog Fantasy, violated applicable Florida law because those games resembled sports betting.”

Bookmakers Review will continue to monitor this story and update our readers as events unfold.