Playbawk—Can California’s Tribal Bingo-Sports Hybrid App Catch on Elsewhere?

Last month, the Chicken Ranch Tribe of Me-Wuk Indians in California launched Playbawk, a Class II bingo-based sports theme app. While the app is only available on the tribe’s reservation outside Yosemite National Park, its launch could be significant. It could pave a new way to offer sports-based gambling in states with no legal online gambling options.

Playbawk comes nearly two years after Chicken Ranch with Vetnos LLC to create PlaySqor, a skill-based bingo-based product. Playbawk is a branded version of PlaySqor, fearing a chicken theme. According to Vetnos, it explicitly designed PlaySqor to fall into Class II (bingo) gaming while meeting the demand for sports offerings.

Chicken Ranch Tribal Chairman Lloyd Mathieson has praised PlaySqor and what it could bring to the tribe:

It’s the future. We know that the best thing that you can do is diversify. And what’s a better way to diversify into an offering than around something that you already know, which is gaming. Because it’s Class II, the tribes really have more control.

How Does Playbawk Work?

With Playbawk, users place wagers on the performance of individual athletes, similar to daily fantasy sports (DFS) props-style or pick’em bets. However, unlike traditional sports betting apps, it does not allow placing bets on the outcome of a sporting event. The goal is to create a winning arrangement on a tic-tac-toe board.

To start, users select from the available sports, which include:

  • Football
  • Basketball
  • Baseball
  • Hockey
  • Soccer
  • Golf
  • Motorsports

Then, they’re presented with nine matchups between two players. The users pick which player will outperform the other. Once the picks are completed, each is placed in nine spots on a tic-tac-toe board. The user then can rearrange the spots to what they think will give them the best chance to create a winning tic-tac-toe line.

Payouts vary, and the user must get at least three winning lines to make a profit. The maximum possible is eight lines, which awards the player 32 times the wager. The minimum bet is $1, and the maximum is $20.

How Playbawk Operates in California

Sports betting is considered Class III gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). For tribes to offer it, California must legalize sports betting, and the state and the tribe must enter into a gaming compact. However, that might not be any time soon. In 2022, over 70% of Californians rejected sports betting, and there won’t be a proposal on the 2024 ballot.

However, Playbawk operates within the guidelines of Class II gaming. Class II includes bingo and non-banked card games. These games do not involve competing against the “house,” but players compete against each other.

Tribes do not need to enter compacts with the state to offer Class II games, so they don’t have to share the revenue. In addition, the tribes are entirely responsible for regulating Class II gaming, with oversight by the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC). Tribal governments must use net revenues from Class II gaming for initiatives like funding tribal government operations, promoting tribal economic development, providing for the general welfare of the tribe and its members, and more.

New BIA Rules Mean Playbawk Could Spread

In 2022, the Chichen Ranch Tribe was among three tribes to invest in Vetnos and PlaySqor. Now, after the tribe launched its branded Playbawk app, it plans to offer it to other tribes in the state with the option of branding it.

In a speech at the Western Indian Gaming Conference in February, Mathieson said he wants all the tribes in the state to add the app. As the Chicken Ranch controls the app in California, it would make money from each other tribe. Mathieson said that he hopes for four to five tribes to sign up in 2024.

However, PlaySqor could eventually be available outside tribal lands in California. The new tribal gaming compacting rules set by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) could pave the way for the app to expand across the state. Under the new regulations, a bet could be considered to occur wherever the receiving servers are, similar to the Florida online gambling model.

The new BIA rules also state that the compact alone cannot claim the bet occurs at the server’s location. A separate state law would be necessary to validate the interpretation. However, the rules make it easier for tribes and state governments to work together on authorizing online gambling.

PlaySqor Could Happen in Oklahoma, Texas

One or two PlaySqor-branded apps, like Playbawk, could also launch in Oklahoma. In addition to the Chicken Ranch, two tribes from the state are involved with Vetnos: the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma and Anadarko-based Wichita and Affiliated Tribes.

Like California, Oklahoma has not legalized sports betting. While native tribes in the state have exclusivity over all Class III gaming, including sports betting, no sportsbooks exist. For that to change, the tribes would need to negotiate new gaming compacts. However, that could be easier said than done, as Oklahoma lawmakers rejected two new compact proposals in October.

Future negotiations could also be tricky, as Gov. Kevin Stitt’s relationship with tribes has been frosty. The Wichita and Affiliated Tribes even sued the governor over changes in the state gambling laws, but the court sided with Stitt in that case.

That brings us back to PlaySqor. Given the governor’s rocky relationship with the tribes and lawmakers’ concerns about gambling expansion, offering a bingo-based sports theme app could be one way to please some gamblers in the state.

Oklahoma is not the only state where the Vetnos product could catch on. Texas, for example, only has Class II gaming. Last year’s effort to pass sports betting died in the Republican-dominated Senate. Unless political changes occur, new bills could face a similar fate. However, while lawmakers don’t want gambling expansion, a survey by the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs, Texas residents are in favor. This is where the hybrid bingo-sports product could fill a hole.

About the Author

Chav Vasilev

Chav Vasilev

After years of managing fast-casual restaurants, Chav turned his passion for sports and occasional slot wins into a career as an iGaming writer. Sharing his time between Europe and the US, he has been exposed to betting and gambling for years and has closely followed the growth in the US. Chav is a proponent of playing responsibly and playing only at legal online sites. When not writing, you will find him watching and betting on sports, especially soccer, or trying to land the next big bonus on a slot.
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