California Tribes Win Sports Betting Lawsuit

A Superior Court judge ruled in favor of California tribal leaders last Thursday by granting an extra 90 days for the tribes to collect signatures to get sports betting on the ballot this November.

Before there was a now-dead sports betting bill making its way through the California legislature, tribal leaders were making its way through the state collecting signatures for a sports betting proposition of its own.

At the start of the year, before the COVID-19 pandemic had a foothold in the United States, the tribes were about 20,000 signatures short of the nearly 1 million needed to get sports betting on the 2020 ballot in California this November.

Once coronavirus started spreading throughout the Golden State, the tribes were forced to pause their signature-gathering operation in response to the lockdowns ordered by Gov. Gavin Newsom. The lockdowns caused the tribes to miss the June 25 deadline for filing the signatures.

In response, the tribes filed a lawsuit against the state in June, asking for an extension on the 180-day signature gathering period. According to a Forbes report, the tribes asked for another 180 days which would’ve put the issue on the 2022 ballot as the deadline would be after this year’s election, but Judge James P. Arguelles split the difference and allowed the tribes an extra 90 days to collect the requisite number of signatures.

If the tribes are successful in getting the issue on the ballot, and it is was passed by the citizens of the state, sports betting would be allowed at any of the 70 tribal casinos. And only at those properties. There would be no mobile or online betting if this initiative is passed.

During the pause, Sen. Bill Dodd introduced SCA 6, which would give tribal casinos and racetracks the ability to offer sports betting. The tribes opposed the bill vehemently as the process they had already started would give them complete exclusivity on the market.

The strong tribal opposition ultimately led to the demise of the bill. Dodd offered up a compromise by allowing tribal casinos the ability to spread table games such as craps or roulette, which were previously prohibited under the current regulatory landscape.

The bill would have given commercial cardrooms the ability to spread house-backed card games like blackjack. Tribes were unhappy with this proposal since cardrooms were already spreading these games through a legal loophole with other entities backing the games.

California is the largest state in the country and would inevitably have the largest regulated sports betting market if passed. According to Dodd’s estimate, legalizing sports betting could result in $700 million in annual tax revenue for the state government.

A statewide referendum is necessary to legalize sports betting in California. If the tribal proposal is not passed later this year, the issue will be dead until the 2022 election cycle. Meaning 2023 would be the earliest Californians could place a bet in a legal sportsbook.

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