Could California Follow NY With Mobile Sports Betting? Not So Fast

Posted on April 19, 2021
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Written By on April 19, 2021

Mobile NY sports betting might have limped across the finish line this month, but don’t expect California to follow suit.

Online sports betting in the Golden State is at least 5-10 years away, according to panelists on an IGB-run tribal gaming webinar Tuesday.

What’s happening in CA sports betting?

Legislative efforts to legalize mobile sports betting in California fizzled out last year in the face of strong tribal opposition. But California voters still could get a say on sports betting this year.

California Nations Indian Gaming Association Chair James Siva said Tuesday the tribes gathered enough signatures for a sports betting ballot initiative. Those signatures are being verified.

Following that, the question will be on the ballot if Californians vote this year on whether to recall Governor Gavin Newsom. Otherwise, the ballot initiative will have to wait until midterms in 2022.

Initiative not similar to NY sports betting

The initiative is entitled the California Sports Wagering Regulation and Unlawful Gambling Enforcement Act. It would legalize California sportsbooks at tribal casinos and existing horse racetracks.

Crucially, it would be retail-only. It would also stay that way until tribes are ready to go online.

“Moving into the online/mobile space immediately could have disadvantages for a lot of tribes who can’t find a partner in the space,” Siva said.

However he said keeping sports betting offline indefinitely wasn’t realistic. Instead he envisioned a potential “ramp-up program” over “five years, ten years.”

Siva added: “The initial phase of brick and mortar-only will help tribes to figure out the best way to engage with this and find the best partners.”

California has more than 100 tribes. That far outnumbers potential online sports betting partners.

Don’t fight the tribes in CA

On the same call, Victor Rocha, the conference chair of the National Indian Gaming Association, warned that California lawmakers would not be able to pass a mobile sports betting bill without tribal support.

“The tribes have exclusivity for gaming and no intention of giving that up,” Rocha said. “We can wait it out. Look at ipoker. If it becomes adversarial, nobody wins.

“People must understand that tribes want sports betting but they can wait. People in the industry don’t understand that. It’s going to be retail first. Then when the tribes decide they want mobile it will happen. If people try to push it before then, we have historical evidence to show they are going to have a really tough time.”

Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation in CT, added that the mobile NY sports betting bill had not been good for the tribes.

In short, don’t hold your breath waiting for CA mobile sports betting.

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Brad Allen

Brad has been covering the online gambling industry in Europe and the US for more than four years, most recently as the news editor at EGR Global.

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