One of the hottest topics in California politics is whether the state’s voters will approve legalizing sports betting. One of its biggest advocates is James Silva, vice chairman for the Morongo Band of Mission Indians.
It is that role, and as chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA), that has allowed Silva a platform to gain support for establishing sportsbooks in the Golden State. There were two propositions on the November 2022 ballot regarding sports betting. Neither one was approved. Silva believes it was confusing to voters.
“The issue of sports betting coming to the California market is perhaps the most pressing issue facing California tribal governments,” Silva says. “During the last election cycle, we had two separate initiatives, Propositions 26 and 27. CNIGA supported Prop 26, which was the tribal initiative, put forth by a coalition of tribes. The association opposed Prop 27, which was sponsored by commercial corporations.
“The situation of having two separate initiatives on the same ballot created confusion for the voters and ultimately led to both failing to pass.”
Silva did say the work done by he and other tribal members had a positive effect.
“Throughout the entire election cycle, one element that remained consistent was the positive view that Californians have of tribes and tribal gaming,” Silva says. “Through extensive polling, we confirmed that despite both initiatives failing to pass, Californians continue to recognize the important work that tribes do and the positive impact they have on the overall California economy. Looking into the future, we firmly believe that California voters will be supportive of sports betting coming to California if the effort is led by tribes.”
Another positive effect was the creation of the Tribal Leadership Council (TLC) in November. That nonprofit was started by Silva, Justin Barrett of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, and Andrew (Dru) Alejandre of the Paskenta Band of Nomlaki, with the goal of providing education opportunities for newly elected leaders and those considering leadership positions.
“As a group of young leaders, we recognized the growing issue of the lack of younger generations moving into leadership for their respective tribes,” Silva says. “We all had seen this lack of new potential leaders attempting to move into leadership, and the one consistent element among all our discussions was the lack of education on what being a tribal leader entails.”
Silva has certainly seen his role at Morongo change since he began as vice chairman in 2018.
“I began my initial time as vice chair in a supportive role for the tribal chairman,” Silva says. “However, as our chairman has set his priority on being available at home for our membership, I have increased my availability for travel and public speaking. As such, I have expanded the role to be the public face for Morongo.”
These days, Silva is not only the vice chairman of Morongo and secretary of the TLC, but fills several other roles as well. He is the chairman of CNIGA, and on the board of directors for the American Gaming Association, the Tribal Advisory Board for the Nation Council on Problem Gaming, the Riverside County Western Desert Municipal Advisory Council, and Morongo’s Economic Development and Planning Commission, of which he is chairman.
“These additional boards, as well as various speaking engagements at numerous conferences including IGA, G2E, NCPG, and ICE, allow me to keep Morongo at the forefront of the public eye as it relates to tribal gaming,” Silva says.