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Why This Try To Legalize California Sports Betting Might Stick

California sports betting

This is a developing story and will be updated as warranted. Dustin Gouker contributed to this report.

This could be the attempt to legalize California sports betting that catches.

A powerful coalition of Native American tribes filed this week a ballot measure for the 2020 election to change the state constitution to allow California sports betting. The measure does not appear to allow for mobile or online sports betting, a continual sticking point for tribal interests.

Tribal gaming enjoys strong constitutional protection in the Golden State, where they generate upward of $8 billion annually. Their desire to get involved in California sports betting signals a major step forward.

Under the terms of the initiative, California’s Native American tribal casinos and racetracks would be allowed to offer retail sports betting. The only major restriction appears to be prohibiting wagering on sporting events in which any California college team participates.

The measure would also allow tribal casinos to offer craps and roulette.

More details on California sports betting proposal

The California Sports Wagering Regulation and Unlawful Gambling Enforcement Act would:

  • Tax sports betting revenue at 10%, and direct money derived from sports wagering to public safety, mental health programs, education, and regulatory costs.
  • Require bettors to be 21 years old.
  • Prohibit the marketing and advertising of sports wagering to minors.
  • Prohibit wagering on any high school sports or athletic events
  • Authorize the legislature to provide for consumer protections and anti-corruption measures to ensure the integrity of sporting events.
  • Strengthen the enforcement of California’s current gambling laws to allow Californians to hold unlawful gambling operations accountable through Private Attorneys General Act provisions.

What the tribes are saying

According to a press release, 18 different tribes in the state support the measure. That included the politically powerful Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians.

Here’s chairman Mark Macarro:

“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.”

Chairman Steve Stallings of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association:

“The tribally sponsored initiative filed today to amend California’s Constitution so as to authorize and regulate sports wagering is the best example of well-written and responsible sports betting policy presented to date. A strong, well-regulated gaming industry is of utmost importance to California’s tribal governments and the public. This initiative allows sports wagering in a responsible manner and provides for transparency and strict regulation.”

What’s it all mean for California sports betting?

That the Native American tribes have stirred to action certainly is an escalation of the sports betting debate in California.

The new ballot measure comes as chatter in California has ramped up considerably, including a potential legislative hearing that had been tentatively slated for Nov. 20 before being pushed back.

Interests in the legislature, sports leagues and CA cardrooms have all been angling to push sports betting through in the near term. But legislation likely goes nowhere without the support of the tribes.

That the cardrooms have been left out would seem like a pointed rebuke at those entities. The tribes and cardrooms have long been at odds over the player-banked table games at the latter. While the tribes have contended that these games violate their exclusivity agreements for gaming, they have been dealt a pair of setbacks in court this year.

That the tribes are actively calling for sports betting now — with online legal or not — represents substantial movement on the issue. The California tribes have been largely tepid on the issue both publicly and privately. But here, they appear to be moving the ball forward.

Still, the issue risks a stalemate like we’ve seen for years over online poker. The tribes, tracks and cardrooms have never been able to get on the same page on online gambling, and sports betting risks suffering the same fate.

The exclusion of cardrooms will create a divide that may create bitterness over legalization. Add in the sports leagues, who have their own agenda, and the path to CA sports betting seems extremely complicated.

Still, legislative efforts for legalization are far better than if they didn’t exist at all. But there is still a lot of space between this ballot measure and legal betting.

Not doing much to combat illegal sports betting

The tribes’ plan for sports betting will give them exclusivity over legal sports betting in the state.

But with no online or mobile betting, California will not be doing much to cut into the huge illegal market at offshore sportsbooks.

Yes, legal sportsbooks at casinos and racetracks will make for substantial revenue, but it still pales in comparison to the existing offshore market.

We also know that throttling a sports betting market will result in less-than-ideal revenues.

In any event, many will hope this is just a volley in an ongoing exchange between the interests that want sports betting in California, and that competing solutions could result in compromise down the road.

Adam Candee
- Adam Candee is the managing editor of Legal Sports Report. He covers sports business and news from Las Vegas. Adam is a former editor and reporter at the Las Vegas Sun, Arizona Daily Sun and KLAS-TV. He can be reached at [email protected]
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