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California To Get A Referendum On Sports-Betting

California voters will finally get the chance to vote on whether to allow sports betting in the state but the catch is it will likely have to wait until 2022 for them to have their say.

Meanwhile, the proposals are unlikely to include any measures for online or mobile betting.

Late last week the California Secretary of State verified that a petition launched by a group of 18 California tribes had reached beyond the threshold of nearly 1m signatures in order to have a question included on the ballot about sports-betting.

The question to be put before the electorate during next year’s mid-terms would allow sports wagering to be conducted at tribal casinos and at racetracks in four specified counties. A 10% tax would be applicable.

The bill would be known as the California Sports Wagering Regulation and Unlawful Gambling Enforcement Act. Bettors would have to be over the age of 21 to be able to participate and bets on college games involving Californian teams would be prohibited.

Among the 18 tribes to have coalesced behind the measure is the Pechanga tribe of Luiseño Indian. The tribe’s spokesperson Mark Macarro said in a press release that the successful petition was an “important step toward giving Californians the opportunity to participate in sports wagering while also establishing safeguards and protections against underage gambling.”

There is a chance the sports-betting proposal could be voted on in the recall election of Governor Gavin Newsom due this coming fall.

But Brandt Iden, head of government affairs at Sportradar US, said the decision about whether to go ahead with a push for this year’s ballot would be a finely-judged decision. “It is my understanding that the organizers are still seeking a path to potentially put the initiative before the voters this November.” 

“However, given the political uncertainties of the recall election, as well as the potential for limited time to perform voter outreach and education, I believe this will likely be on the ballot November of 2022.”

Battle ahead

Analysts at Deutsche Bank said in a recent sports-betting and online gaming round-up that they expected the Californian sports-betting market to be “robust” even if it was confined to retail venues.

There is opposition to the move, though. The card rooms are unhappy about potentially being cut out of sports-betting altogether.

“This initiative does nothing to advance sports wagering, and instead expands the tribal casinos’ tax-free monopoly on gaming and rewards those operators for prioritizing their own wealth over public health and safety,” a card room spokesperson told the LA Times.

The card rooms have already raised $1m for a campaign committee called ‘No on the Gambling Power Grab’ which will officially oppose the ballot initiative.

The tribes themselves opposed another gaming expansion measure put forward last year by state senator Bill Todd and Assemblyman Adam Gray that would have authorized online sports-betting. That move was supported by the card clubs but opposed by the tribe who suggested it represented “bad policy.”

Other recent tribal successes when it comes to sports-betting include Arizona where a new tribal compact was signed in April that will allow the tribes and professional sports teams in the state to open up sports-betting. Caesars has already announced it will be partnering with the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team for both retail and online sports-betting.

Meanwhile, in Connecticut in late May, Governor Ned Lamont signed a law which will allow the tribes in that state, the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot, to operate both retail and online sports-betting.

And in Florida, Governor DeSantis has recently signed a new compact with the Seminole tribe that will also allow them to operate online and retail sports-betting.

Iden puts the chances of the Californian measure passing at around d 70%. “The organizers have been working on this for the past five years getting everything in place and I believe that CA tribes would likely already have retail offerings had it not been for the worldwide implications of COVID-19,” he suggests.

Moreover, sports wagering is already happening illegally in California and both the state and tribe losing out on potential revenue, he believes a follow-up measure to include mobile gaming won’t be far off.

“I believe that the citizens of California will overwhelming support this initiative and that it will hopefully encourage tribal leaders to quickly consider putting forth an additional measure which would allow for statewide mobile sports wagering.”