Last updated: December 7, 2021
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 wagering in the US. Right now, though, bettors have to head to Nevada or Arizona to legally get their bets down.
Multiple attempts are ongoing to legalize sports betting in California. A proposed tribal initiative would legalize sports wagering at land-based Indian casinos and horse racing tracks. A legislative effort would also authorize online and mobile wagering through platforms affiliated with the tribal casinos and racetracks.
Any California sports betting efforts have until June 25 to qualify for the ballot, with up to four ballot measures currently possible. The legalization of sports betting in California requires a constitutional amendment approved by voters.
The future of California sports betting
There’s a building pressure to legalize sports betting in California. With a budget deficit of $54 billion as a result of economic impacts from the coronavirus, California can use all new revenue sources to lessen cuts in important areas.
Eilers & Krejcik projects that CA sports betting under the legislative amendment would produce $503 million in revenue for the state at market maturity. The firm projected $282 million in the first six months including initial license fees.
But like all gambling issues in California, hostility between the tribes and cardrooms makes it difficult to make any progress.
Ironically, the legislative effort is opposed by the tribes, which would get top billing for offering California sports betting, and supported by the cardrooms, which would be locked out of CA sports betting all together.
This is because SCA 6 and ACA 16 would also allow cardrooms to continue their workaround for offering house-banked card games as consolation for giving up sports betting in California.
To reach the ballot, the legislative referendum needs approval from two-thirds of members in each chamber before lawmakers go on summer recess on June 19.
Tribes also haven’t given up on their own initiative, which seemed on the way to gathering enough valid signatures to make the ballot before the coronavirus shut down signature gathering. Although the deadline to submit signatures for count has passed, the tribes plan to challenge the deadline by legal means.
There’s the possibility of both making the ballot, though the better odds are on neither. Measures on the ballot in November must pass by majority vote.
If neither make the ballot, Californians will need to wait for the next election in 2022 for another run at a constitutional amendment.
When will online sports betting launch in California?
If the legislative effort is successful this year, online sports betting is likely to begin in California by the end of 2021 or early in 2022.
If the tribal initiative passes, sports betting will start without online wagering. After a few years, the tribes may reassess and pursue online sports betting in California.
However, a tribal leader at a June 2020 hearing spoke of tribal concerns about online wagering’s cannibalization of their brick-and-mortar investments.
Without online wagering, Eilers & Krejcik projects state revenue from sports betting to shrink to $200 million a year.
Recent California sports betting news
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 state has been represented in the past two Super Bowls. The San Francisco 49ers are coming off making the big game last season. They lost that one in the final minutes but have five Super Bowl championships to their credit and a team returning enough key players to make another run this season.
Their NFC West rival Los Angeles Rams are coming off a down year following their Super Bowl run but are looking to bounce back. The Los Angeles Chargers also play in California.
Of course, many Californians are Raiders fans until the day they die no matter where they play. If they can’t make it to Las Vegas for a game, they might watch them on TV from home with a little wager on the game.
NBA betting in California
This is shaping up to be an epic NBA season for Californians with the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers atop the Western Conference standings. With the Lakers landing LeBron James and Anthony Davis over the past two offseasons and the Clippers nabbing Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in one swoop, the teams have massive star power. When the season resumes, sports fans will be enthralled to watch the Lakers go for their 17th NBA championship and the Clippers go for their first.
The Golden State Warriors know a thing or three about winning NBA championships, having made the NBA Finals the past five years and won three times. Injuries derailed them this season, but they still have Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
MLB betting in California
Los Angeles Dodgers fans are praying that Major League Baseball gets it together and has a season because it looked like this could finally be the year for the Dodgers. The Bums haven’t won a World Series since 1988 but have won the National League West division seven years in a row with two losses in the series, including to the cheating Houston Astros in 2017. This offseason they got their frustrated fan base excited again by trading for Mookie Betts to put alongside Cody Bellinger and the most dangerous lineup top-to-bottom in baseball.
The San Francisco Giants are in a down stretch but their fans can’t complain. The Giants have won three World Series titles in the past 10 years. The Oakland Athletics are coming off back-to-back 97-win seasons and always seem to be competitive despite one of the lowest payrolls in the league. The Los Angeles (really Anaheim) Angels have the best player in the game in Mike Trout.
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
California presents huge rivalries with rabid fans in college football. The USC Trojans vs. the UCLA Bruins is always a bitter game, even though USC has 11 national championships to UCLA’s one. On the other side of the Pac-12 Conference, the Stanford Cardinal and Cal Bears played one of the most memorable games in college football history with Cal winning the game on the kick return with the Stanford band on the field.
In college basketball, UCLA has reigned above the rest with 11 national titles. The other three combined have one Final Four appearance since 1960.
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 and 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 parimutuel 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
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
Is sports betting legal in California?
No. Right now, there are no legal options for sports betting in California. There are two attempts to put the legalization of sports betting on the ballot in 2020. Several daily fantasy sports operators do serve the state, however.
Who would oversee sports betting in California?
The California Gambling Control Board would provide oversight for sports betting in California, as well as sovereign tribal bodies.
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.