Last updated: July 1, 2022
There is no legal sports betting in California. But, with 40 million people, another 40+ million annual tourists, and more professional sports teams than any other state, California would be a gold rush for legal sports betting apps in the US.
Multiple attempts are ongoing to legalize sports betting in California. A tribal initiative on November’s ballot would allow retail betting at land-based Indian casinos and horse racing tracks. An online sports betting proposal also on the ballot is backed by seven commercial sportsbooks.
One of those ballot measures — sponsored by the tribes — is being challenged in courts as of December 2021 because it addresses more than one gaming issue. A fiscal analysis suggests the tribal initiative would increase revenue to the state by “tens of millions of dollars to mid-hundreds of millions of dollars” annually depending on adoption by the tribes.
Any California sports betting efforts had until June 25 to qualify for the ballot. The legalization of sports betting in California requires a constitutional amendment approved by voters. Read on for all the latest updates, news, and progress regarding CA sports betting.
What’s happening in California sports betting right now
- July 1, 2022 – Secretary of State Dr. Shirley Weber officially certified the mobile sports betting proposal for the November ballot.
- June 30, 2022 – Tribes behind the retail-only sports betting proposition began running an ad targeting DraftKings CEO Jason Robins a day after it was confirmed there are enough signatures to place the mobile betting proposition on the November ballot.
- June 29, 2022 – Labor and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta supports the tribal sports betting proposition, according to a release from tribal gaming supporters. The online sports betting proposition is “a direct attack on Indian self-sufficiency,” she added.
- June 28, 2022 – The California Secretary of State office announced the mobile sports betting ballot proposal has enough valid signatures for November’s ballot. The proposal will be certified Thursday.
- June 21, 2022 – Sports betting is entering its annual slow period, but there is a compelling MLB race centered in California that bettors in the state would love to bet on if they could. The Dodgers and Padres are tied for first atop the NL West with the Giants just 3.5 games behind them.
- June 13, 2022 – It is not entirely clear what will happen should the two approved sports betting proposals pass this November.
- May 24, 2022 – The California Teachers Association opposes the proposition to legalize online sports betting, according to a group funded by tribal gaming operators.
- May 12, 2022 – The launch of online sports betting in California would push the total addressable North American market to $37 billion, according to BetMGM‘s investor presentation.
- May 3, 2022 – The online sports betting proposal had 1.6 million signatures submitted by the deadline, which means it will likely be on November’s ballot.
- April 27, 2022 – A poll sponsored by tribal groups suggests Californians oppose an online betting initiative that is still gathering signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The survey polled more than 1,000 likely California voters.
- April 18, 2022 – Multiple elected officials, including mayors and city council members, joined the opposition to the tribal retail gaming initiative, according to cardroom-funded Taxpayers Against Special Interest Monopolies
- April 8, 2022 – The Los Angeles Dodgers opened the 2022 MLB season a year removed from a title, though you’d have to travel elsewhere to legally bet on whether they can win again this year. This likely is not the last MLB Opening Day without legal mobile betting, either. Right now, the only initiative approved for November‘s ballot is only for retail betting. Even if mobile was added to the ballot and approved by voters it would be a rush to launch the market by late March 2023.
- March 30, 2022 – A group of veteran organizations announced their opposition to the tribal retail sports betting proposal approved for November’s ballot, according to a press release from cardroom-funded Taxpayers Against Special Interest Monopolies. Groups include National Veterans Foundation, the Marine Corps Veterans Association and the Association of the United States Army groups in northern and southern California.
- March 25, 2022 – Multiple cardrooms are backing a campaign that will lobby against the tribal retail sports betting proposal that is approved for the November ballot. Concerns mostly stem from the ability the tribes would gain to privately sue cardrooms for offering certain types of games.
- March 17, 2022 – Three tribes are taking to television to lobby against the online betting initiative backed by sportsbooks that is aiming for a spot on November’s ballot.
- March 8, 2022 – A lawsuit to invalidate a retail sports betting ballot proposal has been refiled in a lower court after the state’s Supreme Court declined to hear it.
Is sports betting legal in California?
No. Right now, there are no legal options for sports betting in California. However, there are four different initiatives that either have gained access to the November 2022 ballot or are attempting to gather the requisite number of verified signatures to be placed on the ballot.
The status of California sports betting
All roads to California sports betting run through the November 2022 election. No matter the opinion and motivation of the various stakeholders in the Golden State, it will be up to the voters to decide which type of sports betting they want or if they even want sports betting at all. At present, there are four sports betting initiatives that various groups are trying to put before the electorate in 2022. However, only one of them is guaranteed to be on the ballot right now.
The tribal initiatives
The initiative that has already earned its spot for November 2022 is the tribal measure. The proposal would allow for sports betting to occur at tribal casinos and horse tracks around the state. With dozens of reservation-based venues and several major race facilities in California, the concept makes sense on its face.
However, there are several elements of the proposal that might be less than ideal for fans of an open sports betting market. For one thing, the initiative does not allow for online sports betting whatsoever. In fact, the language of the measure insists upon delaying mobile sports betting for at least five years, and statements from tribal spokespersons have suggested that the ideal time frame might be twice as long. The insistence on a retail-only environment is due to the fact that there are more tribes eligible to offer sports betting than there are online partners, and the group does not want to harm those that would be left out.
In practice, the delay would undoubtedly restrict the growth potential of the lucrative California market due to the state’s immense geographic footprint. However, the tribes have shown repeatedly that one of their top priorities is the preservation and maintenance of their exclusivity over gambling activity in the state. It’s no accident that the initiative extends no eligibility to the card rooms around the state, which the tribes have consistently and unerringly argued are illegitimate enterprises and in violation of the tribes’ compacts (with mixed success in court).
Under the proposal, all sports betting would be subject to a 10% tax on revenue. In-state college teams, like UCLA and USC, would be prohibited as wagering vehicles.
Now, while that initiative is set in stone and on the ballot, the tribes have wisely been reading the writing on the wall. Thus, they have submitted a secondary initiative for consideration to the state which would also allow them to offer online sports betting. Of course, only the tribes and racetracks would be empowered to offer mobile sports wagering, but it’s likely that the public response forced their hand on this matter. This second initiative is still awaiting its title and summary from the state attorney general’s office, which is required before the tribes can begin collecting petition signatures to put this new measure on the ballot.
The sportsbook initiative
A second proposal that would be extremely favorable to the tribes is also making the rounds for petition signatures. However, the tribes had little to do with its filing — its chief proponent is a coalition of seven top online sportsbook operators. The initiative would create an online-only market for sports betting in California and, according to its language, would essentially reserve that market for the tribes and a select few brands.
First of all, the only entities eligible to offer sportsbook apps in the state are either the tribes or the operators, the latter of which must partner with one of the tribes. Card rooms, horse tracks, and professional sports franchises (and venues) are on the outside looking in. Operators must pay a $100 million fee for the initial license, and must renew every five years for $10 million. The nine-digit fee would be the highest in the country, but would also mean that the members of the coalition — DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM, Bally’s Interactive, Fanatics Betting & Gaming, Penn National Gaming, and WynnBET — are probably the only companies that could afford to secure a license.
Tribes would be able to create their own branded apps if they chose. They would need only pay $10 million for the initial license and $1 million to renew. No matter the source, sports betting revenue would be subject to a 10% tax.
However, as mentioned earlier, there are far more tribes in California than there are eligible operators. So, in order to be equitable, all non-participating tribes would receive 15% of the tax proceeds collected from sports betting (minus regulatory costs). The other 85% would go to fund homelessness initiatives in the state. Thus, the measure itself is dubbed the California Solutions to Homelessness and Mental Health Support Act.
As of November 2021, this initiative has not filed notice that it has collected 25% of its required signatures, as mandated by law. The coalition has pledged to spend $100 million to the effort, though.
The card room initiative
There is a third initiative seeking its requisite number of signatures for placement on the November 2022 ballot. It is a measure that would allow for California card rooms to offer both online and retail sports betting. It’s also the most inclusive of the three proposals because it would also allow tribes, racetracks, and professional sports teams to take part.
Needless to say, this measure has the support of various cardrooms in the state and the cities in which they reside. However, for the most part, that’s where the support stops. Even though the initiative would create the most open market — and, for that matter, allow the most types of wagers — it does not have any credibility with the tribes. The rooms simply don’t have the same level of resources to commit to the effort, so it’s not as likely that Californians will get to decide on this measure.
When will sports betting launch in California?
No sooner than 2023, and likely later than that. The only sports betting initiative that is assured to be in front of voters in November 2022 is a retail-only option from tribal groups in the state. It’s possible that other initiatives — with online components — will make the ballot, but nothing is assured.
Even under the assumption that an online option does make the ballot and is approved by the public, there would be no launch of online sportsbook apps until the next year — at the very earliest. There would be months of wrangling from lawmakers, regulators, and other state officials in the effort to honor the will of the people. Regulators would certainly have to create rules for the industry and issue licenses. Operators themselves would have to do some prep work on their technology and logistics to be ready.
In short, it’s rare that the gap between legalization and launch is smaller than six months — and those situations occur because all the stakeholders had time to prepare in advance. California sportsbook apps will not have that luxury, especially with everything still in flux.
Will there be online sportsbooks in California?
Probably not any time soon. As mentioned earlier, there are three initiatives about online sports betting that are at various stages of the process to appear on the November 2022 ballot. However, the only confirmed sports betting initiative for 2022 is a retail-only approach. Without the approval of a ballot measure and/or a constitutional amendment to enable the activity, there cannot be mobile sports betting.
California has long been the Holy Grail for online gambling companies because of its incredible population. Recent information indicates that California is home to more than 39 million residents, which is 10 million more than 2nd-place state Texas and 2 million more than the 21 least-populous states combined.
From that mass of people and the millions of visitors to California lies an unrivaled potential for profit. Gambling research firm Eilers and Krejcik estimates that a full-service (online and retail) sports betting industry in the Golden State could result in annual gaming revenue — not handle — in excess of $500 million at market maturity.
However, that estimate drops dramatically without the presence of online sports betting. E&K places a retail-only sports betting environment to result in $200 million in annual revenue. Now, $200 million is a lot of money and would be an unqualified win in most other states with sports betting, but considering that it represents a drop of more than 60% of the potential, the importance of online sports betting cannot be overlooked.
Recent California sports betting news
Why is sports betting so complicated in CA?
Unfortunately, the outlook for an open market, with both sportsbook apps and retail sports betting across the state, is rather bleak. At issue is the state of perpetual frozen conflict in which the various stakeholders have placed themselves. Quite simply, various gambling groups in the state are at an impasse with one another, and there doesn’t seem to be a workable solution to the problem.
The two groups most opposed to one another are the tribal groups and the card rooms. The tribes, based upon their understanding of their compacts with the state, believe that the card rooms’ operations are in violation of the tribes’ exclusivity over gambling in the state. The tribes do have that exclusivity over house-banked games, but card rooms have danced around the issue by offering only player-banked games. No government entity has moved to make a definitive decision on the matter in the decades since the major card rooms opened their doors.
As a result, it is hard to find a time when there wasn’t ongoing litigation between the two groups. The tribes, for their part, have adopted the stance that any sort of official acknowledgment of the card rooms by the state government legitimizes their existence and makes the situation worse.
Another powerful group of stakeholders in the state are the owners of the horse racing tracks. Few states have as many prestigious horse racing facilities as California. Its crown jewel — Santa Anita Park — may be the most highly-regarded track in the country not named Churchill Downs, Pimlico, or Belmont and has played host to the Breeders’ Cup more than any other track in history. Needless to say, none of the track owners want to be left behind if an influx of $200-$500 million in new revenue is going to become available.
Finally, it’s impossible to ignore the state government and its gambling proxy, the California State Lottery, as occupants of big seats at the table. The main goal for any state government authorizing sports betting is the generation of tax revenue for the state budget or for specified causes within the budget. The folks in Sacramento want as big a piece of the sports betting pie as they can. They are undoubtedly watching how the rollout of the New York sports betting market — which will see 51% of GGR going to the state — proceeds. If it works, it’s not unreasonable to think that a new approach might be coming from the statehouse — one that benefits the government to a far greater degree.
California sports betting bills
California’s gambling history stretches back for centuries — longer than California’s status as a state, in fact. However, the state’s history with sports betting is not nearly as lengthy because, for the longest time, the notion of sports betting was a moot point in almost every area in the US, particularly after PASPA made sports betting illegal — for all intents and purposes — outside of Nevada.
However, California lawmakers started to believe that the winds might be blowing a different direction when New Jersey managed to gain an audience with the US Supreme Court in its case against PASPA. So, even before PASPA’s eventual demise in 2018, the first California sports betting bill proposal had appeared. Of course, none of these measures has passed and made sports betting legal in California, but here’s a shortlist of the bills that have been put forth to legalize sports betting in the Golden State:
On a side note, the tribal initiative mentioned above is the second iteration of the measure to seek placement on the ballot. The tribes tried to get the same initiative on the 2020 ballot, but the COVID-19 pandemic derailed their signature-gathering mission.
Legal sports betting options in California
Aside from betting on horse racing, there are no legal sportsbook websites that accept bets from anyone within the state of California.
There are illegal offshore sports betting sites that accept bets from people in California. They do not hold a license from any US jurisdiction to legally accept wagers.
Without being regulated in California, these offshore websites operate no oversight or guarantees for users. The only safe and protected way to bet on sports in the US is to do so with a licensed operator.
Most popular sports to bet on in California
California has plenty of sports teams that will draw the attention of bettors once they can finally place legal bets. No state in the country has more than California’s 15 teams in the four major professional sports.
NFL betting in California
Even after losing the Raiders to Las Vegas, California has three NFL teams. The Golden State is still home to the Los Angeles Chargers, the Los Angeles Rams, and the San Francisco 49ers. Each team has a long history within the NFL and has experienced varying measures of success. All three have reached the Super Bowl at one time or another, and both the Rams and 49ers have been crowned Super Bowl champions before.
Of course, there is a football team-shaped hole in Oakland that cannot be ignored. Many Californians will be Raiders fans until the day they die, no matter where they play. Nevertheless, there are worse excuses for a trip to Vegas than to see your favorite football team play.
NBA betting in California
As is the case with NFL teams, California is home base for three different teams that play in the NBA. Two of these teams, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Golden State Warriors, are two of the most successful teams in league history. In particular, the Lakers are quite possibly the most prestigious NBA team of them all.
The Lakers are one of two teams based in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Clippers often serve as an also-ran to their counterparts in purple and gold, but have their own legions of diehard fans and loyal supporters in their own right. Although the Clips are still trying to find a year where they break through to NBA glory, there’s a good chance they’ll put it all together soon.
MLB betting in California
With a whopping five teams hanging their caps in California, there is no shortage of interest in Major League Baseball in the Golden State. All but one of California’s MLB squads has captured a World Series title at some point, and three of them are some of the most successful teams in league history (albeit in different cities, at times). The MLB teams in California are:
- Los Angeles Angels
- Los Angeles Dodgers
- Oakland Athletics
- San Diego Padres
- San Francisco Giants
Unsurprisingly, California teams are often in the postseason mix at the end of every season. Each year brings a new opportunity to bring more hardware home.
NHL betting in California
California has three NHL teams in the Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks. The Kings never won a Stanley Cup when they had Wayne Gretzky but got two titles in three seasons in ’11-12 and ’13-14. The Ducks had their magical season in ’06-07 to win their lone Stanley Cup. The Sharks haven’t gotten to kiss the cup, but came oh so close in ’15-16.
NCAA betting in California
No other state has as many teams that compete in the NCAA’s Division I as California. Naturally, there are tons of loyalties and fanbases for each team around the state. Some of the more prominent schools include:
- University of California (Berkeley)
- Cal State Fullerton
- San Diego State University
- University of Southern California
- Stanford University
This list is by no means exhaustive. However, it does bear mention that the lone sports betting initiative guaranteed to be on the ballot specifically prohibits betting on in-state college teams.
California and daily fantasy sports
California is the biggest market for daily fantasy sports with it estimated that 120,000 participants are making more than $200 million in entry fees each year. It was one of the first states to propose regulation of DFS in September of 2015 — even before the DraftKings data leak that spurred governmental and media scrutiny.
Assemblyman Adam Gray tried multiple attempts to pass legislation to legalize and regulate DFS. However, each effort failed against opposition from the gambling stakeholders in California.
Even though the state chooses thus far not to regulate and tax the industry, major DFS sites such as DraftKings, FanDuel, Yahoo, and Fantasy Draft operate in California.
Is horse racing legal in California?
California has one of the biggest horse racing industries in the United States. The state features four tracks with live racing:
- Santa Anita Park
- Del Mar Racetrack
- Golden Gate Fields
- Los Alamitos Race Course
Santa Anita, located in Los Angeles County, often hosts the Breeders’ Cup, considered part of the unofficial Grand Slam of racing following the Triple Crown. It also hosts the Santa Anita Handicap and the Santa Anita Derby.
There are also fairs in Northern California with summer racing, and the Cal Expo offers harness racing.
Legal pari-mutuel wagering overseen by the California Horse Racing Board began in California in 1933. Racetracks have affiliated off-track betting parlors around the state. The minimum age for parimutuel betting in California is 18.
With several tracks having closed in the past decade, horse racing could use a boost of interest from being able to have sports betting at their tracks. The industry is included in the legislative and tribal initiatives being considered in 2020, but only the legislative plan allows racetracks to branch out to have sports wagering online and at satellite facilities.
California sports betting timeline
Although the counties needed an extension for signature verification themselves, they completed the task in May. In the end, the counties were able to certify just over 1 million signatures as valid. Thanks to a margin of roughly 65,000 signers on the tribes’ petition, California voters will have their first opportunity to vote on sports betting in November 2022.
A few months after the tribal measure gained its access to the ballot, two other proposals appeared on the scene in the Golden State. The two initiatives offered radically different options for the structure of a potential sports betting industry in California. Notably, both of them involved concepts for online sports betting. However, the two measures diverged rapidly from one another and from the tribal initiative after that point.
Both initiatives began their own signature campaigns in the fall of 2021. However, both of them faced substantial difficulties in joining the tribal initiative on the ballot in 2022. The card room measure was a non-starter for the tribes, which fundamentally opposed both the card rooms’ receipt of sports betting licenses and, for that matter, the existence of the card rooms themselves. The operator measure had its own challenges to meet after a November 2021 poll indicated that voters did not look favorably upon online sports betting.
Both initiatives have until mid-2022 to collect their required number of verified signatures to make the ballot in earnest.
In January, Sen. Bill Dodd and Assemblyman Adam Gray finally held an informational hearing on CA sports betting in the Joint Governmental Organization Committee. It didn’t have much in the way of sparks as the tribes and cardrooms bit their tongues and observed.
Their next hearing would more than make up for it. First, to set the table for the May hearing, you must know that the coronavirus that affected the whole world also may have changed the course of sports betting in California.
At the same time, legislators saw an opening to renew legislative efforts with California facing a $54 billion budget deficit. Without holding discussions with tribal leaders, Dodd and Gray filled out their bills with implementation language.
The amendments authorized retail and online CA sports betting for tribal casinos and racetracks. Cardrooms were not given sports betting but were offered legal clarity on the games currently offered at their facilities.
Back to that hearing in the Senate Governmental Organization Committee, tribal leaders vehemently opposed the measure and said they will not compromise on their position on the legality of the games played at cardrooms. The card clubs and representatives of the regions they support all offered their support.
SCA 6 advanced through the committee by a 9-3 vote. Dodd pledged that there will be discussions with tribes and changes to address some of their concerns before the bill is brought up on the Senate floor.
The bill will need to pass by a two-thirds vote in the Senate and the House before summer break on June 19. There is a June 25 deadline for measures to make the ballot.
Meanwhile, a tribal coalition is not giving up on their initiative and plans to file a lawsuit to receive more time to submit signatures.
Gray had tried to get ahead of the overturn of PASPA by introducing the constitutional amendment in 2017. However, tribal interests weren’t willing to consider the matter until this year.
Although the bills merely included a ballot question to legalize sports betting in California, the lawmakers made clear their intent to begin discussions with industry stakeholders to fill out the details of how CA sports betting would be conducted.
Right before they planned to hold a hearing on the topic, tribes decided not to come to the table and instead introduced their own ballot initiative. The tribal initiative sought voter approval for legalizing sports betting in a limited fashion only at tribal casinos and horse racing tracks.
Dodd told LSR that he believed the state needed a more inclusive measure that included online sports betting in California.
California sports betting FAQ
Who would oversee sports betting in California?
It depends on which initiative (if any) wins the day. The tribal measure already on the ballot and the sportsbook-backed measure that offers online-only sports betting through the tribes both name the Bureau of Gambling Control within the California Department of Justice as the agency with oversight over the new activity. Meanwhile, the card room initiative suggests that the California Department of Consumer Affairs would be the appropriate regulator for sports betting.
What is the legal gambling age in California?
The legal gambling age in California is 21. While it is true that there are some locations around the Golden State that only require players to be 18 — notably, racetracks and tribal casinos that do not serve alcohol — all initiatives state unequivocally that California sports bettors will have to be over the age of 21 to participate.
Will mobile CA sports betting be allowed?
That depends on what measure, if either, makes the ballot and gets approved by voters. The legislative referendum does permit mobile CA sports betting linked to tribal casinos and racetracks. The tribal initiative limits sports betting to onsite at tribal casinos and racetracks.
There are some sports betting websites that say they accept bets from the United States. Are those legal options?
No. All US sportsbooks are licensed at the state level. Any website that purports to take wagers from anywhere in the United States is operating illegally. These sites offer no protection to those who bet on them.
How many casinos are in California?
California is home to 66 tribal casinos, which are owned by 63 of the federally-recognized tribes in the state. There are more than 100 tribes in California that are eligible to negotiate gaming compacts, and 75 of them have done so, according to state records. Some of the more prominent tribal gaming venues in the state include Yaamava Casino Resort (formerly San Manuel Casino), Pechanga Resort Casino, Viejas Casino & Resort, and Cache Creek Casino Resort.