NIGA Executive Director Jason Giles on Sports Betting: Unique Communities, Path Forward
In this conversation with Jason Giles, Executive Director of the National Indian Gaming Association, we discuss the sports betting opportunity for tribal gaming stakeholders, their specific concerns, and shifting attitudes.
Giles’ remarks preview the discussion during his appearance at next week’s Sports Betting USA event in New York City.
Sports Handle (SH): The tribal gaming community has taken a more cautious approach toward sports betting in the U.S. Can you briefly explain why, and are attitudes changing?
Jason Giles (JG): Tribal nations have many prudential concerns regarding the implementation of sports betting that most states and commercial operators do not have to consider. Foremost amongst those concerns are the tribal-state gaming compacts and a hesitation to renegotiate these complex agreements. Further, a lot of tribes are paying states a revenue share to ensure tribal gaming exclusivity. Putting these issues at risk over a low-margin entertainment option is one reason tribal nations are slowly rolling out sports betting.
SH: There are certain states – such as Oregon – where tribal casinos have chosen to embrace sports betting to some extent. With the state-by-state regulation creating a fragmented and unclear impact, how can tribal operators interested in sports betting navigate the complex landscape?
JG: Tribal gaming regulators are at the forefront of our industry. They have a proven track record of strong, innovative forms of regulation. Tribal regulators and operators are already working together to implement internal controls for sports betting that fit their specific casino operations. In New Mexico for example, operators and regulators there leaned heavily on Nevada’s long-term expertise with sports wagering. Similar outreach has occurred in California between tribal regulators and state regulators. Sports betting has been legal in Nevada for over 50 years, so a lot of the implementation of sports betting is not trying to reinvent the wheel, but drawing from the expertise that already exists in the field.
SH: Given that tribal communities are in a unique position as you mentioned, are there any hidden threats to the value chain that operators must consider when looking at sports betting?
JG: One of the main attributes that sets tribal gaming apart from its contemporaries is tribes’ focus on the customers from the surrounding community. Given the largely rural location of most tribal casinos, the local population is the main source of customers. With regards to sports betting, each casino needs to assess whether their local market can support this new entertainment option. After that initial feasibility assessment, tribal governments need to decide if implementing sports betting will impact their tribal sovereignty or gaming exclusivity. Working through these two considerations will considerably reduce any threats to the viability of the casino operation itself.
SH: Sports betting may attract new player demographics. How can tribal casinos engage these audiences? What cross-sell opportunities may be available?
JG: Sports betting is sure to attract both younger customers and sports enthusiasts, two demographics that are known to spend money on gambling entertainment options. If a tribal casino can attract new subsets of customers, there is clearly an opportunity to implement other new gaming entertainment options. E-sports is expanding, the rise of skill-based games as an option, or even in-game betting opportunities. All of these speak to the next generation of gaming entertainment.
SH: What are the most successful models for tribal sports betting?
JG: The uniqueness of tribal gaming has meant that each tribe with a casino has had to forge their own path forward. Tribes located closer to big cities have far different considerations than tribes with casinos located in the upper Midwest or states such as Montana, Idaho, or South Dakota. Right now, there is not a model for implementing sports betting at tribal casinos. The Mississippi Choctaw have taken a different approach in starting their sportsbook as compared to the Pueblos in New Mexico. These tribal nations are the trail blazers in the sports betting industry and the rest of Indian Country is actively monitoring their implementation and will certainly draw lessons from their experience in implementing sports betting as an entertainment option.