In the 18 months since the PASPA ruling that gave states the power to legalize sports betting on their own, it became clear which states would be seriously pursuing the issue while others were content to sit back and do nothing. States like Alaska and Utah are among those not expected to entertain the idea anytime soon (if ever) while others like New Jersey and Pennsylvania were clearly going to be at the forefront. For the past year and a half, California fell in the same category as Alaska and Utah. Now, in a surprising turn of events, California is among the remaining states without legal sports betting that could very well legalize betting in the near future.
Why Has Sports Betting Not Been Progressing in California?
The legal sports betting market in California would be the biggest in the country. The Golden State has nearly 12 million more residents than the next highest state (Texas). Nearly 40 million residents in a state where sports betting appeared to not be coming to for a long time. Why? The state’s tribes were unwilling to budge on the issue of legal sports betting.
Tribes in California have been using their political power to kill any serious sports betting legislation. The reason was that they did not want to share a gambling market with the state’s racetracks, racinos or cardrooms. For over a year the tribes made it very clear that the only way they would approve sports betting would be if they had the exclusive right to offer it.
Any attempt to give the state’s tribes the exclusive rights to sports betting would draw opposition from California’s racetracks and cardrooms. California appeared caught between a rock and a hard place when it came to legal sports betting.
Tribes Make the First Move
Mark Macarro, chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, said in a statement:
“Californians should have the choice to participate in sports wagering at highly regulated, safe and experienced gaming locations. We are very proud to see tribes from across California come together for this effort, which represents an incremental but important step toward giving Californians the freedom to participate in this new activity in a responsible manner.”
A constitutional amendment is needed in California before sports betting can be legalized. This proposal by the tribes for the November 2020 ballot will allow for betting on professional and collegiate events at tribal gaming casino and licensed racetracks. The initiative would impose a 10% tax on gross revenue from sports wagering. That money would be allocated to things like education, public safety, and mental health programs.
Will This Proposal Bring Legal Sports Betting to California?
The issue of legal sports betting in California is still up in the air but this is a big first step. The tribes willing to give a little bit here and allow for legal sports betting at racetracks is a big win for the state of California. However, one big issue is that the state’s cardrooms are not permitted under the initiative to operate legal sports betting. This is almost certain to be objected by the cardrooms and cause potential issues.
In order for the initiative to qualify, nearly 1 million signatures from registered voters are needed, 997,139 to be exact. Considering the funding and political clout of the state’s tribes, that shouldn’t be an issue. The biggest issue will be with the state’s cardrooms. While the tribes did budge a little and propose for sports betting at racetracks, it is unlikely they will budge further and agree to include cardrooms. There have been issues between cardrooms and the tribes over the legality of some of the gaming offered by the state’s cardroom. Any bad blood from those issues is certain to carry over into the legal sports betting argument.
As of now, it appears the two choices for California is that sports betting becomes legalized at tribal casinos and licensed racetracks only, with cardrooms being left out. Or, sports betting doesn’t become legalized at all. There is still a lot of time between now and next year’s vote, so anything can still happen. Compromises can be made and issues can be ironed out. However, if things stay the way they are right now, odds are that California residents will take any form of legal sports betting they can get and the state’s cardrooms will be left in the dark.