CA sports betting could end up in court if voters endorse both ballot measures in November, with no clear legal opinion on their ability to co-exist.
Voters will likely be faced with two California sports betting questions:
- Yes or no on tribal-backed, retail-only betting.
- Yes or no on the online sports betting measure backed by FanDuel, DraftKings and others.
Legal battle looming on CA sports betting
If both pass, there will be lawyers, according to tribes at least.
“The courts would have to decide whether the initiatives can work in parallel or if they are competing,” said Brandon Castillo, a campaign strategist for the tribal initiative.
Speaking last week on a Capitol Weekly webinar, Castill said the tribes believed the two measures could not co-exist.
“The courts are going to have to work it out,” Castillo said. “We believe we’ve established policy that in-person wagering should be the law. We’ve taken a hard stance that in-person is the right way to do it, not online.”
That view is also written into the tribal measure itself.
Precedent for California ballot battle
Competing measures have been decided by California courts in the past. In essence, the court must decide whether the measures are conflicting. If they are, the one with more affirmative ballot votes takes precedence.
The California Secretary of State‘s office did not respond to multiple requests for clarification. A spokesperson for the state Attorney General‘s office said, “We are unable to provide legal advice or analysis.”
Sports law professor John Holden said the tribes could reasonably argue their ballot measure exists on the presumption that retail is the only permissible form of sports wagering.
Opposing views on CA sports betting measure
Predictably, the online operators disagree. For instance, Penn National public affairs SVP Eric Schippers said recently the measures could co-exist.
“The other initiative, which is on the ballot would be for retail only. And so they’re not really competing,” Schippers said. “They’re actually complementary. And if both are approved, we can go down the road and be very successful there.”
That view is also written into the online initiative.
Of course, the chances of both measures passing are slim. As Holden put it recently:
“If you have more than one ballot initiative on the same subject, you might as well have none.”
Holden told LSR, “I think the chances of both passing are incredibly small. A ton of money spent will be spent, and I suspect that will result in neither measure getting enough support. Even if both measures pass this is going to be litigated to the ends of the earth.”
Sports betting proponents need only to look at Florida to see that a legal battle could mean no sports betting anytime soon.
What else did tribes say on CA sports betting?
Castillo argued Californians are broadly against online gambling and operators know it. He said that is why they named their initiative, ‘California Legalize Sports Betting and Revenue for Homelessness, Housing, and Education Initiative.’
“It tells you everything you need to know that they didn’t just have an honest conversation with voters and ask ‘do you want to legalize online gambling?’” Castillo said. “They are masquerading as a homeless measure.
“They have wrapped this up with homelessness. But when you open it up, you still have a lump of coal, which is online gambling. We are confident voters will figure this out. Our campaign has plenty of resources.”
Both sides have pledged to spend at least $100 million on the campaign battle.
Rebuttal on sports betting initiatives
The operator-backed initiative declined to send a representative to the webinar, Capitol Weekly said.
Industry advisor Chris Grove acted as something of an industry spokesperson instead, though he was quick to point out he was not advocating for one side or another. Grove stressed the safety of regulated online gambling versus the ever-present illegal market.
“This isn’t a choice between sports betting or no sports betting,” Grove said.” This is a choice between the status quo of significant online gambling already occurring in California, or the introduction of legal and regulated online gambling.”
Editor’s note: Chris Grove is a founder and former publisher of Legal Sports Report.