Many states are eyeing opportunity if New Jersey wins its sports betting case
Legal Sports Report

California Joins Legal Sports Betting Sweepstakes With Proposed Constitutional Amendment

California sports betting
The latest possible entrant into sports betting legalization is a big one: California.

What California is trying to do on sports betting

Assemblymember Adam Gray announced the introduction of a constitutional amendment on Thursday that would authorize sports wagering in California. The amendment would take effect if federal law changes to allow sports gambling.

Of course, that likelihood of federal law changing on that front has increased greatly with the New Jersey sports betting case heading to the US Supreme Court.

Gray chairs the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee. He said in a press release that the SCOTUS case was the impetus for the legislation.

“I am pleased to see the US Supreme Court has shouldered the burden of bringing legal clarity to the issue of sports wagering and the rights of states under the United States Constitution,” Gray said.

States like California are getting ready for the future of sports betting

The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, or PASPA, effectively bans single-game sports betting outside of Nevada.

California is the latest in a series of states to consider legalization of sports betting in the past year. So far, Connecticut and Mississippi have taken steps toward attempting to regulate sports wagering in 2017.

“Whether we like it or not, Californians are already betting on sports through illegal and often unscrupulous websites in foreign countries,” Gray said. “It is time to bring this multibillion dollar industry out of the shadows. We need to crack down on illegal and unregulated online gaming and replace it with a safe and responsible option which includes safeguards against compulsive and underage gambling, money laundering, and fraud.

“All other gaming activities in California are subject to regulations that ensure the safety of consumers. Sports wagering should be treated no differently.”

What kind of chances does California have of passing a sports betting amendment?

If the amendment gets to the voters of California, it likely has a good chance of becoming law.

But to get on the ballot as a referendum issue in California, the state legislature must first approve it by a two-thirds majority. Gaming issues have been a tricky thing for lawmakers to navigate in recent years:

  • California has been considering online poker for nearly a decade, behind the efforts of Gray. But the various gaming interests — tribal casinos, cardrooms and racetracks — have had a difficult time getting on the same page.
  • Daily fantasy sports legislation initially passed by an overwhelming majority in the Assembly in 2016. But soon after that, momentum for the bill disappeared. The subject hasn’t even come up in 2017. DFS operators still serve the state.

Sports betting comes from a different starting point. It should be easier for all gaming stakeholders in California to agree to have equal access to the sports betting market however. That would seemingly give the legislature a fighting chance to advance the proposed amendment.

The potential of a California sports betting market

California is the largest state in the nation. It has a population of 40 million and features a robust gaming industry already.

Land-based sports betting would be a massive draw for current operators in the state. California’s tracks, in particular, would certainly benefit from the boost from legal sports betting.

Because of past arguments over online poker, it seems unlikely everyone would buy into an online sports betting system right away.

For comparison’s sake, Nevada is obviously a much smaller state with much more gaming tourism. Nevada sports betting generated $4.5 billion in handle in 2016, and $219 million in revenue.

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Dustin Gouker
- Dustin Gouker has been a sports journalist for more than 15 years, working as a reporter, editor and designer -- including stops at The Washington Post and the D.C. Examiner.