Heavy Lift On California Sports Betting Could Take A Year To Sort Out

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California sports betting

If California has a decision whether to authorize sports betting on the ballot in November 2020, it will be voting on a full-fledged bill.

Sen. Bill Dodd tells Legal Sports Report that he and Assemblyman Adam Gray, who introduced a constitutional amendment last week to legalize California sports betting, plan to have specifics set up before the election.

In other words, Californians wouldn’t be voting merely to allow the legislature to pursue sports betting legislation in the future. They could have the opportunity to give the green light for CA sports betting to begin as soon as possible.

“We’ll have the mechanics and everything done ahead of time so there’s transparency,” Dodd said. “Let’s face it: people are betting on games everywhere throughout the state of California. This is a way to pull it out of the shadows and put it into a regulated environment where the state will benefit and we can keep track of and identify gambling addicts to help them.”

California, here I come …

Gray made a previous attempt to get a constitutional amendment for sports betting on the ballot prior to the 2018 election. Since that effort failed, the US Supreme Court overturned PASPA and 15 US jurisdictions have authorized sports betting.

“We tried a couple years ago and had so many other fish to fry at the time that we felt we couldn’t get it done before the midterm election, so this is the next election cycle coming up and is a good opportunity,” Dodd said.

To get on the ballot, ACA 16 will need approval from two-thirds of both legislative chambers at least 180 days before Election Day. That puts the deadline around a week into May. The governor’s signature is not required.

California sports betting hearings coming

In his announcement of the bill, Gray indicated that the Assembly and Senate Governmental Organization committees, which he and Dodd chair, will conduct a series of joint informational hearings on the future of California sports betting throughout the state.

Dodd said he expected the first hearing to be held late in August. He also plans on visiting other states to learn how they are operating sports betting, what is working and what they wish they could have done differently.

By starting the process now, the lawmakers hope to have enough time to craft how sports betting in California will look without anyone feeling rushed or excluded.

“We’re looking to have a fully transparent process that hopefully people will appreciate,” Dodd said. “Those people that have knowledge of this, good or bad, can come and testify and let us know their thoughts on it.”

Usual challenges stand in the way

A two-thirds vote is a high threshold to reach in each legislative chamber, particularly on gaming issues in CA that regularly turn into battles among Native American tribes, cardrooms, and the horse racing industry.

Dodd is optimistic that his colleagues will be more willing to approve a bill despite the static they hear from stakeholders when they know it is headed to the ballot.

“A lot of times, if a bill makes sense then representatives don’t mind allowing the voters to decide for themselves,” Dodd said. “But we absolutely have to present a strong case.”

Gaming stakeholders won’t have all the power

Gaming issues can take a long time to work out in California. Online poker legislation didn’t go anywhere for more than a decade because the different factions of tribes vs. cardrooms and tribes vs. tribes dug in and stood their ground.

A proposed ballot initiative that didn’t get off the ground earlier this year could serve as a warning that anything can get on the ballot with the right donors. That could mean both from the operator side or the tribal side, as the Golden State hosts a tribal gaming industry of more than $8 billion.

“Going into a protracted battle on a ballot issue like this, the more deep pockets that are interested, the less chance of having those issues [turf wars],” Dodd said. “Hopefully they’ll come to the table looking for a solution and not a fight.”