California Tribes File Lawsuit, Restart Signatures On Sports Betting Initiative

Posted on June 9, 2020

While a California sports betting bill was front and center Tuesday in the Senate Appropriations Committee, the state’s Indian tribes showed that they aren’t done pushing for their own initiative to make the ballot.

Tribal leaders behind the California sports betting ballot petition filed a lawsuit with the Superior Court of the State of California seeking their full allotted time to gather signatures. The coronavirus pandemic shortened the timeframe.

Jacob Mejia, spokesman for the tribal initiative, also told Legal Sports Report that the coalition put the petition back out for signatures early last week.

The tribal measure limits sports betting to the properties of tribal casinos and racetracks. It also provides an opening for tribes to file legal challenges directly against cardrooms related to the manner in which they offer blackjack.

The legislative bill, which was put in a Suspense File until June 18 by the Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, authorizes physical sportsbooks and online California sportsbooks via tribal casinos and horse tracks. It also codifies the legality of the way the cardrooms operate their games currently.

What’s in the lawsuit from California tribes?

Four tribal chairmen and the Coalition to Authorize Regulated Sports Wagering filed the lawsuit against California Secretary of State Alex Padilla.

The lawsuit requests a writ of mandate commanding Padilla to direct county officials to extend the deadline for proponents of the initiative to submit signatures qualifying the initiative for the November ballot.

The tribal initiative seemed on its way to acquiring the 997,139 valid signatures to put it on the ballot before the coronavirus pandemic stopped signature-gathering efforts.

Although valid signatures don’t need to be in until June 25 to make the ballot, counties needed the signatures by April 21 to begin the verification process.

“This is about seeking to preserve the people’s democratic right to pursue an initiative during the pandemic,” said Tribal Chairman Kenneth Kahn of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians. “Tribal leaders temporarily suspended signature gathering as a sacrifice to protect everyone’s public health.”

Signature gathering on sports betting initiative

The lawsuit indicates that the petitioners collected 971,373 signatures at a cost of $7 million by mid-March. Then the process halted due to the stay-at-home orders from the governor.

About 1.5 million signatures are needed to ensure the nearly one million valid signatures required to make the ballot. The initiative was about two-thirds of the way there. But proponents only got to use about half of the time they were allotted.

Mejia indicated that the coalition recommenced collecting signatures last week as stay-at-home orders relaxed and the state began opening back up. But gatherers continue to experience significant burdens on their ability to do in-person signature-gathering because of social distancing requirements.

The lawsuit explains:

“In light of the ongoing stay-at-home orders and restrictions, enforcement of the 180-day circulation deadline presents an impossible burden that prevents Petitioners from exercising their right to propose legislation by initiative, as guaranteed by the State Constitution, and impermissibly interferes with their rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.”

The petitioners ask the court to expedite the case and order that the 180-day period for gathering signatures either:

  • Not count the period from the beginning of the stay-at-home order (March 19) until all counties in the state have moved to stage 3 of reopening, or
  • Gets a 90-day extension.
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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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