Recap of NIGA midyear conference

27 September 2018

(PRESS RELEASE) -- The National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) is pleased to announce record-breaking attendance for the 2018 NIGA Mid-Year Conference and Expo, hosted at the Pechanga Resort & Casino on 25-27 September 2018. With a significant focus on Sports betting, close to 700 attendees participated in the annual event.

On 14 May 2018, the United States Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which prohibited tribal and state governments from legalizing sports betting within their jurisdictions. In the wake of the Court’s decision tribal leaders have continued to analyze the impacts on tribal-state gaming compacts and on Indian gaming operations. To enhance discussions, NIGA coordinated the annual Mid-Year event to place a focal point on potential opportunities and challenges posed by legal sports betting. Panel discussions examined the economics and business of sports betting, the potential regulatory structure, and policy considerations for the emerging market.

National Indian Gaming Association Chairman Ernie Stevens, Jr said, “While the Indian gaming industry has a strong seat at the table, it remains critical to maintain our focus on sports betting and the many aspects of this new part of the national gaming market. We will continue working to ensure that tribal governments have the opportunity to offer this activity as part of their overall entertainment package and as an additional source of revenue for Tribal Government Gaming to promote tribal economic development, tribal self-sufficiency and strong tribal governments.”

While the three-day conference hosted an array of dynamic topics and top-notch presenters on all aspects of Sports Betting, it was the meeting with the NIGA’s Member Tribes that brought the opportunities and challenges of sports betting to the forefront.

On Wednesday afternoon, 26 September 2018, the member tribes of NIGA came together to discuss further the potentials of sports betting across Indian country. In late August, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians became the first Tribe in the United States to add sports betting to their gaming operation portfolio. Mississippi Choctaw Chief Phyllis Anderson spoke of the success of their sportsbook’s first weeks in business and guided attendees through their process and next-steps for those tribes interested in venturing into Sports Betting entertainment.

In her Keynote Address, Chief Anderson shared the aggressive timelines they took to bring their sportsbook to fruition. The process included adopting and gaining approval of an amended Class III ordinance, creating a sports betting division within their gaming commission, amending tribal regulations, bringing consultants to the team to provide expertise and initiating their vendor selection process. She went on to say that because of the need to quickly roll out the process, they were able to begin with a traditional in-person counter to accept wagers, and described plans to add on-premises mobile and kiosk wagering in the coming months.

Of the Supreme Court ruling to overturn PASPA, Anderson said, “We saw this as an opportunity to pursue Sports Betting at a time of the year when football is key and in Mississippi people love to bet on their teams. It is a great accomplishment to become the first tribe to open an independently operated Sports Book.” She added, “It takes a bunch of people working together to make these things happen. We had to start from scratch and our team had a very sharp learning curve, but they delivered.” Anderson proudly spoke of the outstanding venue available to their gamers to enjoy as a prelude to presenting a brief video clip unveiling the introduction of their sports book at their Timeout Lounge located at the Pearl River Resort on the Tribe’s Reservation.

The “Sports Betting in Indian Country” panel closed out the tribal leadership mid-year agenda. This session provided updates from around Indian Country, including further discussions of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians’ sports betting operation. Moderated by Jason Giles, Executive Director of NIGA, and Valerie Spicer, founding partner of the Trilogy Group, the panelists included Steve Bodmer, General Counsel to the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, Tauri Bigknife, Attorney General of the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, and Kevin Quigley of Foley Quigley PLC.

The issue of sports betting was also examined throughout workshop sessions and education tracks, as well as a member tribe specific panel. On Tuesday, September 25, workshop presentations included “Big Data: Analytics in Sports Betting & Gambling.” The discussion centered on the value of data in a sports betting context, and how casinos, especially tribal operations, can stand to benefit by utilizing data to understand and engage the large and growing segment of avid sports fans willing to wager on sports. Moderated by Solange Jacobs Randolph, Senior Director of Marketing & Communications at VizExplorer, panelists included Stasi Baran, PhD, Co-Founder & COO of Qube Data Science, Inc; Chris Dougan, CCO of Genius Sports; Stuart Kerr, Chief Data Scientist at Pechanga Resort & Casino; and Dr. Laila Mintas, Deputy President of Sportradar U.S.

The “Mobile Gaming: Disruption or Innovation in Tribal Gaming” panel examined the split in thinking about how mobile gaming (sports betting and mobile on-premise) can bring innovation to or disrupt the flow of the casino floor. The panel included Melissa Blau, Director of iGaming Capital, Brett Calapp, Chief Social Gaming officer of Pala Interactive, Richard Carter, CEO of SB Tech, Charles Cohen, Vice President of Mobile PlaySpot and North America Sports Betting at IGT and Daniel Kustelski, Co-Founder and CEO of Chalkline Sports. The panel was moderated by Frank Pracukowsky, Director of iGaming Capital.

Attendees also heard from a top-notch group of panelists who discussed the “The Business & Economics of Sports Books,” which examined the delicate business of running a successful sportsbook, how new technology is changing the game, and provided insights for tribal gaming operators. Gene Johnson, Vice President of Victor Strategies moderated the panel which included Joseph M. Asher, Chief Executive Office at William Hill, Kip Levin, President and COO of FanDuel Group and CEO of TVG and Vic Salerno, President of US Bookmaking.

To close out the day’s focus on Sports Betting, NIGA presented an Industry Roundtable and the Business Opportunities in Sports Betting panel. This panel, brought together experts who discussed the rollout of sports betting across Indian Country, the role of in-play-betting, internet, and mobile channels, factors to consider when choosing an operator, tribal exclusivity provisions in tribal-state gaming compacts, and regulatory regimes for sports betting. The panel also examined how sports betting can draw new customers to Indian Country casinos and build a new customer experience. Moderated by Russell Witt, Director of Operations at Ainsworth Gaming Technology, panelists included Vernon Finley, General Manager of Grey Wolf Peak Casino in Montana, Debbie Thundercloud, Chief of Staff at NIGA, Lee Torres, General Manager of Pechanga Resort & Casino and Seth Young, Executive Director of Online Gaming, Foxwoods Resort and Casino.

On Thursday, September 27, NIGA Mid-Year discussions continued to target the opportunities in Sports Betting. To kick off the discussions, a panel entitled, “Technology & Responsible Gambling: The Casino in Your Hand.” Panelist included Cameron Conn, Founder and CEO of GameSecure, Connie Jones, Director of Responsible Gaming at AGEM, Robert Jacobson, Executive Director of the California Council on Problem Gaming and moderated by Kevin Mullaly, Vice President of Governmental Counsel, GLI. The panel discussed the hard questions regarding the alignment of technological tools with peer-reviewed research, the measurability of results from using the tools, their impact on a diverse consumer base and how to prevent unintentional harm.

The “Regulating Sports Betting & Emerging Gaming” panel came together to focus on the future of sports betting in Indian Country, and identify the mixture of sports betting products that are entertaining but also safe, secure, and legal. Tribes and tribal regulators will be on the front lines of providing oversight of new channels, including mobile and online, as well as evolving products like in-play wagers. The panel provided considerations regarding the necessary tools and best practices for regulating sports betting. The group also explored what tribes can learn from other jurisdictions already governing sports betting. Chris Stearns, Commissioner of the Washington State Gambling Commission moderated the panel, which included Billy David, Owner of Bo-Co-Pa & Associates, Ron Flores, Chairman of the Pechanga Gaming Commission, John Roberts, Commissioner of the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi Gaming Commission and George Rover, Managing Partner at Princeton Global Strategies.

“The Road Ahead: Tribal Gaming After PASPA,” panel discussion closed out NIGA Mid-Year 2018. This session included discussion of some of the most critical questions facing Indian Country today related to Sport Betting, which included discussions on opportunities, issues facing smaller tribes, tribal exclusivity, gaming compact renegotiation potentials, new stakeholders, new Constitutional Amendment in California on sports betting, and realistic timeline for the rollout of sports betting in states. Victor Rocha, President of Victor Strategies moderated the panel that included Mark Macarro, Chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, Greg Sarris, Chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, Ernie Stevens, Jr., Chairman of the NIGA and Debbie Thundercloud, Chief of Staff at NIGA.

As the Indian gaming industry and tribal leadership gathered for NIGA's Midyear Conference, a subcommittee of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee held a hearing to examine sports betting in the United States in the post-Murphy v. NCAA era. While some witnesses pressed against federal oversight, conservative members of the subcommittee pressed for a strong federal regulatory role over sports betting in America. As noted by the content of our Mid-Year Conference, it is clear that Sports Betting is an important matter on our radar. All of Indian Country will continue to monitor this as it moves forward.

Chairman Stevens concluded the Mid-Year by saying, “Our Mid-Year attendance is proof that we are ready and willing to take our place at the table when it comes to opportunities in Sports Betting and to enhance tribal government gaming revenues.”

Related Links
Ranked Online Sportsbooks
NIGA 2018 Mid-Year Conference & Expo
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Pechanga Resort & Casino Details
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