California Indian tribes have been granted an extension to gather signatures for a sports betting ballot initiative.
The initiative, entitled the California Sports Wagering Regulation and Unlawful Gambling Enforcement Act, would legalize California sportsbooks at tribal casinos and existing horse racetracks.
Judge James P. Arguelles of the California Superior Court in Sacramento ordered an extension to Oct. 12 for the deadline to submit signatures.
The original 180-day deadline for petition circulation was July 20. However, the tribal coalition behind the initiative successfully argued that social-distancing orders related to the coronavirus pandemic warranted an extension.
Because the deadline to make the 2020 ballot was June 25, the extension to gather signatures applies to the 2022 election.
Ballot measures can make the ballot at a later date, but this move means the tribal effort would not have to start from scratch. There is the looming prospect of a competing sports betting ballot measure emanating from other sources for the 2022 election, as well.
First Amendment rights required extension
In his decision, Arguelles determined that a violation of the First Amendment of the US Constitution would occur absent an order extending the 180-day deadline.
“Despite Petitioners’diligence, the 180-day deadline coupled with Executive Branch orders responding to the COVID-19 pandemic significantly inhibits Petitioners’ ability to place their initiative on the November 2022 ballot.”
A constitutional amendment requires a minimum of 997,139 signatures. But to ensure the number of signatures is valid requires about 150% of that total.
The tribes submitted that they spent more than $7 million obtaining 971,373 signatures between Jan. 21 and mid-March.
What the extension does is makes it so they won’t lose the investment to get those signatures. If they can get the signatures by the new date, they won’t have to start the process over in 2022.
Still work to do for California Indian tribes
Tribes indicated that, since they began circulating the petition again after stage-2 of California’s reopening plan, they are gathering signatures at about 10% of their rate from before the pandemic.
That difficulty may continue depending on the unknown trajectory of the virus. On Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom reinstated some restrictions due to a spike in coronavirus cases.
In case ongoing social-distancing requirements warrant another extension, the court retains jurisdiction on the matter.
“We appreciate the Court’s consideration and recognition of these extraordinary circumstances,” said Jacob Mejia, spokesperson for the tribal coalition. “We are also pleased that the Court has retained jurisdiction, which allows us to go back to the judge in case of other shutdowns.”
The tentative ruling comes ahead of Thursday’s scheduled hearing on the matter, which will still take place. Secretary of State Alex Padilla, the defendant in the case, did not oppose the petitioners’ request.