California Sports Betting Bill Dead As Tribal Opposition Too Strong

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California sports betting

The California sports betting bill is dead, according to its sponsor.

Sen. Bill Dodd confirmed to Legal Sports Report that he is pulling his CA sports betting bill because of opposition from Indian gaming tribes.

Dodd explained the move in a statement:

“Given the deadlines for getting a measure on the November ballot and the impact of Covid-19 on the public’s ability to weigh in, we were not able to get the bill across the finish line this year. It remains important that we lift this widespread practice out of the shadows to make it safer and to generate money for the people of California. I will continue to be engaged in the issue as we work toward 2022.”

Dodd had hoped to get SCA 6 released from suspense in the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday.

The bill would then have needed to pass both legislative branches by Thursday to qualify for the November ballot. The Secretary of State could have extended that deadline to mid-July by approving a supplemental ballot.

What happened to CA sports betting bill

The bill would have legalized California sports betting in person and online through Indian gaming casinos and racetracks.

However, Indian tribes opposed the bill because of the online aspect and the inclusion of language to clarify the legality of how cardrooms offer banked games.

“It was a bad bill, written without tribal input, with virtually no time remaining on the clock — it got the finish it deserved,” said tribal lobbyist David Quintana.

“It started off as a sucker punch but ended up as a knock out. Hopefully the next round will involve a true dialogue with the tribes.”

Legalizing CA sports betting could take years

Legalizing sports betting in California requires a constitutional amendment go in front of voters. This limits the efforts to election years.

This means the legislature won’t be able to get a sports betting constitutional amendment on the ballot until 2022.

Given the time frame for launch provided in this bill, that would make the first possible launch of California sports betting as September of 2023.

Tribal initiative is a wild card

A coalition of California tribes is in court asking for more time to gather signatures to qualify their own sports betting initiative for the 2022 ballot.

The tribes intended for their proposal to make this year’s ballot. It gathered nearly a million unverified signatures prior to the pandemic shutdowns.

While indicating that it’s possible that a change allows them to get on the 2020 ballot, the tribal coalition is requesting an extension of the July 20 deadline to submit signatures for 2022.

Given the urgency of the case, the Superior Court of California set a hearing for July 2. If the lawsuit fails, the tribes could still put the initiative on the ballot in 2022. But they would have to start over on the signature collecting, a costly proposition.

The coalition behind the tribal initiative released the following statement:

“We appreciate that legislators saw through the smoke and mirrors and stopped SCA 6 — the effort to break yet another agreement between California and Native American Tribes and expand Nevada-style games to cardrooms. Over one million voters have signed our petition to legalize sports wagering at racetracks and tribal casinos, and we respect their preference to authorize sports wagering in a responsible and incremental manner.”

Lawmakers tried to use budget deficit for push

As previous failed attempts at online poker showed, it’s tremendously difficult to get gaming legislation passed in California.

With the two key industry stakeholders — the tribes and cardrooms — at odds and a hard two-thirds vote needed in the legislature for a constitutional amendment, lawmakers are hesitant even to make a real attempt.

With California facing a $54 billion budget deficit due to economic impacts from the coronavirus, Dodd and Assemblyman Adam Gray tied their sports betting effort into increasing new revenue to limit cutbacks.

Estimates indicated that the legislative effort could bring $250 million in tax and licensing revenue to the state in the current budget year and $500 million annually at market maturity.

“California is in the midst of its greatest budget crisis in history, threatening classroom funding and the social safety net,” said Steven Maviglio, a political consultant for the cardrooms. “Yet, the will of a few rich tribes with Vegas-style casinos, that don’t pay taxes, have prevailed in preventing a desperately needed new source of revenue from flowing to the state.”

Proponents of legislative effort disappointed

A hearing in the Senate Governmental Organization Committee earlier this month showed significant support for SCA 6, while also illuminating its difficult road ahead.

Cardrooms and the municipalities who benefit from their economic engine spoke in favor of the bill. They stayed in support even as proposed amendments from Dodd added increased cardroom restrictions.

“We appreciate the leadership of Sen. Dodd and Assemblymember Gray to do the right thing and propose legislation that was focused on a comprehensive and legal sports betting structure that would be in the best interests of every Californian,” said Kyle Kirkland, president of the California Gaming Association. “The legislation was widely supported by cities, nonprofits, public safety, and all gaming interests with the exception of a handful of wealthy tribal casino operators. As representatives of the cardroom industry, we will continue to support comprehensive proposals that benefit Californians, not just one special interest.”

Also voicing support were major sports leagues and many of the professional teams located in California. The bill included a mandate for operators to use official league data on in-play wagers.

Maviglio added that the tribal initiative, by not including mobile sports betting or upfront licensing fees, would bring less revenue to the state while ensuring that the online black market continues.

“Californians should know their interests in this time of crisis have been spoiled by powerful special interests,” said Maviglio, who represents the committee opposing the initiative. “California deserves better.”