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The California horse racing industry was pleasantly surprised by the proposed ballot initiative to legalize sports betting that was filed recently by the tribal chairmen.
Robyn Black, a longtime lobbyist for the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association, tells Legal Sports Report the racetrack industry wasn’t involved in the drafting of the California Legalize Sports Betting on American Indian Lands Initiative.
However, the industry approves of the measure that, if qualified for the ballot and approved by CA voters, would amend the state constitution to permit sports betting at California’s tribal casinos and five racetracks.
That makes plenty of sense considering the boost California sports betting could bring to them. Sources close to the tribal initiative confirm that while informal conversations between the parties took place, the tracks did not participate in drafting language.
“We’re supportive of what the tribes have filed,” Black said. “This is the tribes’ initiative. They didn’t consult with us on the language. We’re simply supportive of what they think is the right thing to do.”
That support extends to excluding online and mobile wagering, as well as setting the legal minimum age to bet on sports at 21; the minimum age for pari-mutuel betting in California is 18.
“I think they did an excellent job of making sure that Californians will have a protected, legal means of doing sports wagering,” Black said. “We’d be hard-pressed to find anything but supportive and complimentary things to say about what the tribes have drafted.”
Horse racing is the only industry in California that currently offers legal and regulated online gambling of any form. Since 2002, Californians have been able to participate in advance deposit wagering (ADW) from their phones or computers through licensed third-party platforms.
However, Black said that it has been the position of racetracks — since before the Supreme Court decision to overturn PASPA — that sports betting in California should be limited to brick-and-mortar locations.
“That’s not to say that, in the future, people may not want to look at that again,” Black said. “But we believe for California to embark on this, to protect Californian jobs and protect the integrity of financial information and underage gaming, it should start with brick-and-mortars.”
Even though the California Horse Racing Board has nearly two decades of experience regulating online wagering platforms that use geolocation, protect consumer security and prevent underage and problem gambling, Black doesn’t believe that technology flows into the California sports betting market as smoothly as it may seem.
“When you look at sports wagering, that’s a whole new frontier,” Black said. “I think there’s a lot of work that needs to be done.”
The industry clearly values the exclusivity it currently holds over online gaming in the state.
The tribal initiative comes just as Sen. Bill Dodd and Assemblyman Adam Gray were planning the first California sports betting hearing for their attempt to put wagering on the ballot with Assembly Constitutional Amendment 16.
While the horse racing industry supports the tribes’ initiative, the industry isn’t ruling out supporting the legislative effort.
“There’s not a lot of detail in ACA 16, but we have always been very supportive of Chairman Gray and Chairman Dodd,” Black said. “If they decide to move forward with their efforts, we’ll be right there working with them to see how they craft that.”
Over the past two years, tribes did have informal conversations with some in the horse racing industry about their intent to pursue a ballot initiative.
Racing representatives made their pitch for inclusion but said they didn’t know if they succeeded until the filing became public.
“We’ve been the only form of legal sports wagering in California for years, so I think we are very grateful that the tribes saw fit to include us,” Black said.
So will the racing industry join the tribes in financially backing the push for the CA sports betting initiative?
“I think it’s too soon for us to make any comment on that,” Black said. “We weren’t asked to contribute. We weren’t asked to comment on language. At this point, we’re merely supportive of what tribes have very carefully written.”