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After progressing through Federal Court with a 0-7 win loss record, it may have been a surprise for a large proportion of industry stakeholders, and the wider general public, when The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) agreed to take on the Christie v NCAA case.

Hearing oral arguments in December of last year, with a wide belief of a favourable outcome for New Jersey, it seems to be a case of when, not if, sport betting is permitted within the state.

Within the United States tribal gaming represents big business, and, it is believed within some sectors, could be key when looking at the long term outlook.

Aurene Martin, partner at Spirit Rock Consulting, gives a brief insight into the scale and inner workings of tribes and their casinos: “It’s a $32bn annual industry in the United States, and depending on how you look at tribal gaming versus other segments of the gaming industry, it represents between 40%-50% of the entire industry in the US.

“We’re pretty proud of that figure because we have been growing continuously since Indian gaming started in 1988.

“So tribes are different from commercial gaming in one very important respect, tribal gaming is owned and operated by Indian tribes, tribal sovereign governments, in the United States.

“They are, we like to say, 100% taxed, because all of our profits go to the operation of our tribal governments and providing services for our people.

“It is also very different from commercial gaming in that it is operated under the framework of federal Indian law, [and the] Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

“And the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act preserves the rights of tribes, which they already have inherently, to operate gaming, but it was also a compromise, between tribes and states, for them to work within the legal framework of the state which they are in agreement with.

“Those with class three style gaming are classed in the Indian Regulatory Act as those with casino style games, and so it is different in that way because you have to look at every state in which tribes are located to determine how that game might be operated.”  

With Debbie Thundercloud, chief of staff at the National Indian Gaming Association, adding: “We have 248 tribes in the United States that do conduct gaming, those tribes are located with 29 of the states, and the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act requires that tribes and states enter into contracts that outline how gaming is going to be conducted, how it is going to be regulated, for those class three style games.

“And those terms and conditions of how the contracts vary for each of those tribes, so each of the 248 tribes have gaming may have different nuances and terms and conditions within those contracts.

“Some of those contracts may be exclusivity clauses, so that’s where it complicates how sports betting might get rolled out in the United States within Tribal gaming because those tribes have exclusive jurisdiction within those states to have gaming and there may be commercial forces that want to participate in that, but because of those exclusivity clauses it makes the political dynamics a little bit different.

“The PASPA law has a specific reference to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and gaming conducted on Indian lands, which includes tribal gaming in the prohibition of sports betting.”

Labelling tribes as the US gaming markets “best kept secret” Thundercloud went on to detail the research, information gathering and education currently being undertaken by tribes on the sports betting betting issue: “Indian gaming is a good platform, I think, for this whole sports betting opportunity, because we provide those kinds of things to companies who are wanting to build and grow.

“So I think Indian gaming is the place to begin with.

“Another thing some of our partners said is that tribes are in business relationships for the long term, and that is very true.

“Within Indian Country we like to develop relationships of trust and reliability, and that takes a lot of time, but once that relationship is established and there is a lot of trust there, you can expect to be able to do business with us for a very long time.”

Chris Stearns, commissioner for the Washington State Gambling Commission, shares a belief that tribal gaming could represent a good option: “For operators I think Indian Country offers a perfect opportunity for sports betting, and it will vary by state, what kind of products are allowed.

“In Washington we are, in terms of tribal gaming, one of the top five markets in the United States, the gross gambling revenue for the entire state is around $3bn.

“Currently the tribal gaming sector produces around 88% of that market, that’s a lot because the remainder of our market is commercial partners and those numbers have been decreasing lately, because they simply cannot offer the same kind of products that tribal casinos can offer.

“In our state we have a constitutional prohibition against gambling, except as specifically authorised when the constitution was amended in 1972, and then it provides that any new form of gambling has to be approved by a super majority, 60% of the legislature or 50% of the voters if it goes to a referendum.”

“There are 29 tribes in Washington, and 22 tribes operate 28 gambling facilities, and they range in size from 200-300 machines all the way up to almost 4,000 machines.

“What is important to think about is that if PASPA is overturned, and there is an opportunity in Washington, they would have to get authorised by the legislature and by that super majority margin.

“It is no secret that tribes in Washington are very effective, they are very united and they carry a lot of political weight.

“To me, my own opinion is that the real battle over what kind of sports betting would be allowed will be driven by the tribes,” added Sterns.