Lawmakers in California are lining up witnesses for their first sports betting hearing of 2019.
Per Legal Sports Report sources, the legislature hopes to bring stakeholders and experts to Los Angeles to testify on Nov. 20. The date is tentative, and the body’s website does not yet list a hearing on the docket for that Wednesday.
Though sports betting bills have been popping up in California for years, members of the General Assembly have taken nothing more than a cursory look. The state’s complicated gaming landscape and the ongoing feud between the state and its tribes make passing related legislation a tall task.
CA sports betting conversation rekindled
Sen. Bill Dodd is the author of SCA 6 and its primary proponent in the Senate, supported by Assemblyman Adam Gray in the lower chamber. The two men have led the long-suffering effort to bring legal sports betting to California, hinting at this hearing several months ago.
That SCA designation on their bill indicates that it is a proposal to amend the Constitution, a requirement for all gambling legislation in the state. It would add just one provision to the existing code:
Notwithstanding subdivisions (a) and (e), the Legislature by statute may authorize and provide for the regulation of sports wagering.
Passage requires supermajority approval in the legislature and a simple majority vote from the people of California themselves.
Neither of those things, however, represent the primary hurdles to legalization. The path to California sports betting will require discovering common ground between the tribes and the state, if any exists.
New Jersey originally authorized sports betting via referendum. Voters in Colorado have a chance to make their state the second by voting yes on Proposition DD next week.
The cooks in California’s kitchen
There aren’t many states less likely to legalize sports betting than California, and it’s not for a lack of appetite. The Golden State is a gambling state, littered from top to bottom with race tracks, tribal casinos, and card rooms.
Therein lies the problem.
The tribes have exclusivity over certain forms of gambling, a privilege they contend the state is infringing upon. Years of contentious legal battles over regulated card rooms have brought no resolution, straining the relationship and thwarting modern expansion.
Dodd understands the dynamics in play as well as anyone. While he hopes the tribes come to the table, the sponsor is more focused on the voting public for now.
“We want to get an initiative on the ballot that the voters can understand,” he told Fox 40, “that’s easy to understand and perhaps in the process maybe bring all the gambling institutions — card rooms, horse racing, tribal casinos — all together.”
That is all easier said than done, of course, and tribal approval is likely a prerequisite to legislative authorization.
A clean slate for 2019?
That said, something seems different about the conversation in California this year.
Sports leagues and teams have come around, for starters, realizing the potential for increased revenue and fan engagement. The NBA and its Sacramento Kings are now among the organizations advocating for legalized sports betting.
The tribes might be on board too. Speaking to the San Francisco Chronicle, the chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association said the natives might play ball if they can protect their existing casino empire.
Here’s Steve Stallings:
“The tribes understand the industry and are positive about growth and expansion, but not expansion that would jeopardize tribes’ exclusivity (to offer casino games) or things we do now. We told the legislators we will discuss it, but we want details on tax rates, who would be eligible, how it would operate.”
A recent defeat in court may also make tribal support incrementally more likely. The Chronicle notes that there is no organized opposition to CA sports betting today.
Regardless, the local teams and leagues will no doubt have their say in the legislation, but legalization largely hinges on tribal approval. That hearing this month, should it materialize, could shed some light on whether or not compromise is in the air this year.