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California Sports Betting: Sooner Rather Than Later

In 2017, California Assemblymember Adam Gray had the foresight to propose and introduce a constitutional amendment that would enable the state to, “permit sports wagering only if a change in federal law occurs.” In May 2018 that happened! However the state has yet to pass anything regarding sports betting. There is some hope however. After the Supreme Court ruled last May in favor of legalizing sports betting, Gray repeated his hope to get a sports betting constitutional amendment passed. There was also a voter referendum this year that could legalize the practice.

The referendum shockingly never got off the ground. Russell Lowery, a consultant for Californians for Sports Betting, admitted that they never even got a, “single signature.” They had filed the petition in June of 2018, and Lowery claims that while it never got any actual momentum in the form of signatures, “It started a conversation in California gaming on what is the right path forward…” Any potential ballot initiative in California has to have at least 623,000 signatures to make the ballot, each initiative can be circulated for 180 days and have to be certified 131 day in prior to the next election. The earliest that would be is June 25, 2020.

The ballot initiative would have allowed tribes to operate roulette and craps at their casinos, with both tribes and card-rooms getting sports betting. One of the biggest issues with getting an initiative of any kind on a ballot is of course money. It takes a lot of money and manpower to get 623,000 signatures. Lowery claims that to get the initiative on the ballot they would need roughly $2 to $3 million. The Native Tribes also did not support the initiative and led to a large loss in potential funding for the initiative. The tribes specifically want to be the sole operators behind sports betting and don’t want more competition among the card-rooms, race tracks, and lottery retailers.

Unlike in South Carolina, California is not having intense partisan issues with getting their issues passed. There is just a lack of support from the already existing structures, which in turn has caused lobbyists and other forms of legislative support to turn away from these initiatives. With no one to pay lobbyists to push legislation in the state assembly, there is no reason for these issues to be supported. Not only that but losing support or getting on the bad side of the Native Tribes could potentially be political suicide. The $8 billion industry throws a lot of weight in the state of California. It will be interesting to see where these initiatives go in the next session and if any support will be generated in the 2020 session.