California Sports Betting Is Apparently In Play During State Budget Battle

Posted on May 28, 2020

California is facing a budget deficit in excess of $50 billion. Assemblyman Adam Gray reportedly pitched the idea of legalizing sports betting to help eliminate some of the proposed cuts.

California sports betting hadn’t gained traction in the legislature previously, while the state enjoyed a budget surplus for years before the coronavirus came along and devastated the state’s economy. Tax collections are expected to be way down because of the months of economic shutdown.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget proposal Tuesday included $14 billion in cuts to critical areas such as public education, health care and environmental protections.

Cal Matters reported that Gray suggested the state could bring in more money by permitting sports betting, boosting taxes on e-cigarettes and taxing lottery winnings.

How sports betting could help CA

Assembly members spoke out at a committee of the whole meeting Tuesday with members of the Newsom administration. Gray reportedly criticized the cuts as being “more painful than necessary while offering little in the way of creative revenue generation.”

An Associated Press article reported that Gray proposed the state could generate an extra $2 billion with legalized sports betting. But that would be an unprecedented number for any state. A representative for Gray seemed to dispute him mentioning that figure in talking with Legal Sports Report.

The representative indicated that nothing is imminent regarding the inclusion of sports betting. He said, “Nothing to report at this time but with a $54 billion deficit … you never know.”

The legislature needs to approve a spending plan by June 15.

Where California sports betting stands

The legislature and governor likely can’t just put legalizing sports betting in the budget package.

The issue appears to require a constitutional amendment that must first go in front of voters. However, other states have found or have considered ways to circumvent what looked like constitutional roadblocks. Online poker in the state was considered for nearly a decade in the state in terms of just regular legislation not tied to an amendment.

Earlier this year, Gray introduced ACA 16 as a bill to put the question of legalizing sports betting on the November ballot.

Sen. Bill Dodds introduced a companion bill in the Senate, and the two chaired an informational hearing on sports betting in a Joint Governmental Organization Committee meeting in January.

Putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot takes a steep two-thirds vote in the legislature.

The legislative effort stalled as California Indian tribes broke off to pursue their own ballot initiative.

California stakeholders not involved thus far

The tribal initiative seemed on its way to acquiring the nearly 1 million valid signatures to put it on the ballot until the coronavirus stopped signature-gathering efforts.

It now seems unlikely that the tribal initiative will make the ballot. The required signatures can’t be changed and the governor has not extended deadlines on gathering signatures.

The deadline for signature verification is June 25. The initiative isn’t officially dead until the spokesman for the effort says it is or the deadline passes.

Industry stakeholders tell Legal Sports Report that they have not been included in any discussions of a renewed legislative effort.

There’s one key question that could determine if an inclusive legislative effort for sports betting can reach the ballot. Can the critical need for revenue generate enough support to reach the two-thirds threshold without all the stakeholders on board?

Matthew Kredell Avatar
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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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