Ballot Language Could Be Key To Passage
Legal Sports Report

Official Language Starts Race To Ballot For CA Sports Betting Initiative

CA sports betting

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra issued a title and summary for the tribal CA sports betting initiative on Tuesday. It gives tribes the green light to begin collecting signatures to put the measure on the ballot in November.

Some people might only read the title and summary when voting, making this a critical step in the initiative process.

The CA sports betting initiative was filed Nov. 4 by the tribal chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, Barona Band of Mission Indians, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation. It is backed by 18 leading gaming tribes.

Now begins a race for the initiative to collect nearly a million valid signatures in what could be as few as six weeks.

CA sports betting initiative title and summary

Given the importance of the title and summary as the most eye-catching part of a ballot measure, proponents and opponents are concerned that language could influence voters.

The description of the sports betting initiative seems straightforward. It is as follows:

AUTHORIZES NEW TYPES OF GAMBLING. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AND STATUTORY AMENDMENT. Allows federally recognized Native American tribes to operate roulette, dice games, and sports wagering on tribal lands, subject to compacts negotiated by the Governor and ratified by the Legislature. Beginning in 2022, allows on-site sports wagering at only privately operated horse-racing tracks in four specified counties for persons 21 years or older. Imposes 10% tax on sports-wagering profits at horse-racing tracks; directs portion of revenues to enforcement and problem-gambling programs. Prohibits marketing of sports wagering to persons under 21. Authorizes private lawsuits to enforce other gambling laws.

What’s in California sports betting initiative

The proposed ballot initiative would amend the constitution to legalize California sports betting only within the 65 tribal casinos and four horse racing tracks in the state.

In addition, it would authorize tribal casinos to offer Las Vegas-style roulette and craps games.

Finally, the CA sports betting initiative amends previous state gambling law to potentially allow a person or entity to file a civil suit against the perpetrator of an alleged violation of conduct. California’s cardrooms contend that this clause is aimed to allow tribes to file lawsuits directly against them over their method for player-banked card games.

The state previously issued a fiscal impact estimate report on the initiative, estimating a potential increase in state revenues by tens of millions of dollars but noting uncertainty over tribal payments to the state on sports betting in CA.

A Pechanga representative clarified to Legal Sports Report that most tribes intend to pay the same 10% on sports betting revenue to the state as outlined in the initiative for racetracks.

Path to the ballot for the initiative

Getting the measure on the ballot requires 997,139 valid signatures, which is not an easy task.

It’s a significantly larger number than in past years due to the increased turnout for the 2018 gubernatorial election. Initiatives required 400,000 fewer signatures to make the ballot in the previous two elections.

Reaching the new figure actually will require collecting well more than a million signatures in a short time.

When the signatures are submitted, local election officials perform a random check. Random sample estimates need to exceed 110% (about 110,000) of the required valid signatures to advance to the ballot automatically.  

If the estimate is between 95% and 110%, a full check of signatures is done to determine the total number of valid signatures. The recommended deadlines are March 3 for a thorough check and April 21 for a random check. The required number of signatures must be verified by June 25.

Tribes hire firm to lead ballot charge

Sources tell LSR that the tribes have hired Winner & Mandabach Campaigns to run the ballot initiative campaign.

The move shows that the tribes are serious about getting their vision for CA sports betting on the ballot.

Winner & Mandabach ran the 2008 campaign that got voter approval for four gaming compact measures that allowed some CA tribes to add additional slot machines to their casinos.

They likely will need to collect more than 1.2 million signatures. About 20 million of the 39.5 million people in California are registered to vote.

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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