2020 Vision: California Sports Betting To Be A Hot-Ticket Item?

Posted on January 3, 2020

Twenty states have some form of legal sports betting regulation. This series looks ahead to which states could regulate sports betting in 2020.

If one lives in the Golden State, you often hear that California leads and other states follow. That’s not the case with California sports betting.

Nine states approved legalized sports betting in 2019, making it 20 states with legal sports betting. The most populous state in the nation has yet to even hold a hearing on the topic. That will change in 2020, either through a tribe-backed ballot measure or via the state legislature.

What happened in California sports betting in 2019

In California sports betting, legalizing requires a constitutional amendment that needs to be approved by voters. Such an initiative can originate in the state legislature or from an individual or group that gathers enough signatures to put it on the ballot.

Assemblyman Adam Gray, who chairs the Governmental Organization Committee that oversees gambling in the state, tried to get California out in front by introducing a CA sports betting bill in 2016 and constitutional amendment in 2017. Neither effort went anywhere.

A shadowy group called Californians for Sports Betting filed a sports betting initiative in 2018 but never seriously explored finding backers and expired in February 2019.

Gray revived his effort by filing ACA 16 in June, with Sen. Bill Dodd filing companion legislation with SCA 6.

But before they could a hearing, 18 of the state’s leading Indian tribes broke off and filed their own initiative that would limit sports betting to brick-and-mortar tribal casinos and racetracks.

What might happen in California in 2020

Gray and Dodd are holding a joint informational hearing on CA sports betting Jan. 8 in Sacramento.

Dodd told Legal Sports Report that he hopes to fill out the bill with language detailing the specifics of how California sports betting would be handled in California by March.

He wants an inclusive bill that incorporates all industry stakeholders, and allows for mobile wagering to bring sports betting out of the shadows and tax it for the benefit of public schools.

The constitutional amendment requires approval from two-thirds of each legislative chamber at least 180 days prior to November elections, a difficult road when facing opposition from California’s influential Indian tribes. Then it needs voter approval.

Tribes’ initiative likely to make ballot in November

The California Legalize Sports Betting on American Indian Lands Initiative needs 997,139 valid signatures verified by June 25 in order to make the ballot. With their resources, it is expected tribes will get those signatures.

A fiscal analysis released by the CA Department of Finance and Legislative Analyst’s Office is the next step for the initiative.

That is expected to happen prior to the legislative hearing, with the attorney general’s office releasing a title and summary later in the month. Signature collecting then can commence.

California cardrooms have pledged to try to defeat the initiative, with a spokesman saying it’s not good for Californians or the state. They see a hidden agenda paving the way for tribes to have standing to file civil lawsuits against the cardrooms.

Californians likely will have the opportunity to vote for legal sports betting this year. They’ll have to decide whether to take limited sports betting now or wait on the possibility of a more inclusive measure with mobile wagering in two years.

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Matthew Kredell

Matthew started his career as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News, where he covered the NFL, Kobe-Shaq three-peat, Pete Carroll’s USC football teams, USC basketball, pro tennis, Kings hockey and fulfilled his childhood dream of sitting in the Dodgers’ dugout. His reporting on efforts to legalize sports betting began in 2010, when Playboy Magazine flew him to Prague to hang out with Calvin Ayre and show how the NFL was pushing US money overseas by fighting expansion of regulated sports betting across the country. A USC journalism alum, Matt also has written on a variety of topics for Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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