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Native American tribes recently stopped collecting signatures on their California sports betting initiative because of the coronavirus shutdown.
Unable to meet the April 21 deadline to submit signatures for verification by random sample, the initiative will need an extension from the legislature or governor to make the ballot.
“Because the health and well being of Californians is foremost, we paused paid signature-gathering efforts for the time being,” said Jacob Mejia, spokesman for the initiative effort. “Tribal leadership remains committed to bringing this proposal to voters in November and are monitoring developments closely and assessing all options.”
To make the ballot a constitutional amendment, the sports betting initiative needs to reach 997,139 valid signatures.
The tribes were aiming to gather at least 1.5 million signatures to ensure that enough were valid.
“We are just shy of 1 million signatures and would have reached our goal well ahead of the deadline before the unprecedented orders around COVID-19,” Mejia said.
The tribal California sports betting effort might be in jeopardy, but that isn’t stopping the state’s cardrooms from beginning a well-funded opposition.
A state filing for contributions to the No on the Gambling Power Grab campaign describes the initiative’s objectors as “a committee of local leaders, licensed card clubs and their employees, law enforcement and local businesses.”
The no campaign is starting strong with $7 million, including:
“Seven million is just the down payment,” said Steven Maviglio, a spokesman for the “no” campaign. “There’s a lot more where that came from. Their business is at stake, their employees are at stake and a lot of tax money is at stake.”
Maviglio said the “no” campaign would begin to build a coalition, hire staff, conduct polling and think about advertising despite the uncertainty of the ballot initiative.
“There’s no stake through the heart yet,” Maviglio said. “The tribes are trying a number of things to make the card clubs not be able to exist, destroy local city budgets and cause thousands of people to permanently lose their jobs. We’re going to have an aggressive campaign to make sure it doesn’t pass and that means putting in money now.”
Getting the required signatures by April 21 seems like a remote possibility. The state is under a shelter-in-place order that Gov. Gavin Newsom says could last up to eight weeks.
Companies that collect signatures have shut down. People don’t want to get close to signature gathers in the name of social distancing.
An extension on the signature deadline is the only possibility for the initiative to make the ballot. That would take urgent legislation or an executive order from the governor.
Changing the number of signatures needed to make the ballot requires a constitutional amendment.
Newsom said companies that are paid to gather signatures for ballot initiatives have asked him to extend the deadlines for submitting signatures. He was noncommittal and said that the question is one of many issues he’s processing in response to the coronavirus pandemic.