Now Or Later, Tribes Not Done With California Sports Betting Initiative

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California sports betting

While a lawsuit filed this week seeks to extend a deadline for the 2022 ballot, a group of tribes hasn’t given up on getting their California sports betting initiative on the ballot this November.

Jacob Mejia, spokesman for a tribal coalition backing the initiative, tells Legal Sports Report that additional factors might still allow a push for the 2020 ballot.

It’s an unprecedented situation for a global pandemic to interrupt efforts to put measures on the ballot. The lawsuit keeps the initiative alive to preserve possibilities for how these circumstances play out in coming months.

California tribes target 2022 ballot in lawsuit

The lawsuit filed by tribal leaders asks the Superior Court of the State of California for a mandate commanding Secretary of State Alex Padilla to direct county officials to extend their deadline to submit signatures for qualification of the initiative for the 2022 election.

The leaders of four prominent California tribes and a coalition representing many more filed their initiative last November.

The proposal seeks to amend the state constitution to authorize California sports betting at tribal casinos and horse racetracks. It would also add craps and roulette to the games tribal casinos can offer.

An additional clause changes the way alleged unlawful gambling activities are handled in the state to permit direct civil action if the state attorney general passes on a written request to pursue action.

This could allow tribes to go directly after cardrooms over the way they offer traditional house-banked games like blackjack.

COVID disrupted signature gathering

On Jan. 21, Attorney General Xavier Becerra issued a title and summary of the initiative, giving proponents the green light to begin signature gathering.

Ballot efforts typically have 180 days to get the necessary signatures. According to the lawsuit, the tribal initiative collected 971,373 unverified signatures in less than two months when stay-at-home orders related to the coronavirus pandemic stopped petition circulation on March 19.

To qualify for the ballot, it takes 997,131 valid signatures by June 25. However, signatures first need to go through counties to verify the signers are real people.

Tribes want signatures to carry over

It was previously expected that the tribal interests behind the initiative would file a lawsuit to extend their deadline to get the signatures to make November’s election. It’s still possible that the 2020 deadline becomes a part of the case.

But the lawsuit actually focuses on another deadline. Signatures from this election cycle only count for the 2022 ballot if submitted by July 20.

Otherwise, petitioners need to start the signature-gathering process from scratch for the next election. The lawsuit estimates that the petitioners spent $7 million collecting those signatures.

Mejia previously the petition went back out for signatures last week as stay-at-home orders loosened around the state. The coalition is shooting for 1.6 million signatures to ensure the valid signature requirement is reached.

What it means for California sports betting

State lawmakers are still trying to put a measure on the November ballot legalizing California sports betting. The bill needs to pass both chambers by June 25 to qualify.

Though the odds are long, it’s still possible California voters find two sports betting propositions on this year’s ballot.

Sen. Bill Dodd, author of SCA 6, pledged to work with the tribes to address their concerns at a recent hearing. However, tribal leaders made clear at that hearing and one Tuesday in the Senate Appropriations Committee that they aren’t interested in working on his bill.

What’s in the CA bill

Dodd’s bill authorizes physical sportsbooks and online wagering through tribal casinos and horse racetracks. It also permits tribal casinos to offer craps and roulette.

Tribal leaders oppose the bill based on the online aspect and how it codifies the legality of cardroom games.

Lobbying efforts are at full throttle leading up to a Suspense Hearing scheduled in Appropriations for June 18.