Not This Time: California Sports Betting Dead In Legislature

Not This Time: California Sports Betting Dead In Legislature

Legal sports betting IS NOT coming to California. At least not any time soon.

On Monday, state Sen. Bill Dodd announced that he was withdrawing from consideration SCA 6, which would have legalized mobile and retail sports betting across the state. It had been scheduled for a vote in the Appropriations Committee Tuesday. The move means that it could now be years before sports betting is legal in California, which would become the biggest sports betting market in the U.S. once live and mature.

In a statement, Dodd said it wasn’t possible to get the legislation “across the finish line” this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and legislative deadlines. But Dodd’s version of legal California sports betting is at odds with what the state’s tribes envision, and the two sides haven’t had any meaningful dialogue about sports betting since Dodd and Rep. Adam Gray filed their sports betting amendments in early June.

Indian Country opposed Dodd’s bill

Just last week, tribal leaders said during a webinar hosted by Pechanga.net that they had not been contacted by lawmakers, and that they would fight to get sports betting done their way. California’s tribes operate about 70 casinos and control gaming in the state, with the exception of horse racing and some table games at card rooms.

“They did not consult with tribes or ask leaders what we thought,” Marc Macarro, chief of the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, said during the webinar. “California is the largest potential single jurisdiction in the United States. So it’s not surprising that there are partisans who would want to legalize on their terms, and sure, tribes, you can have a seat at the table.”

In fact, tribal leaders believe lawmakers used the COVID-19 pandemic as an opening to push forward legislation. Last November, a coalition of 18 tribes put forth a proposal for legal sports betting — only in person at tribal locations and horse racetracks — and in January got authorization to collect signatures for a referendum that would have gone on the November 2020 ballot. But when Gov. Gavin Newsom shut down the state in the face of the pandemic, the tribes could no longer collect signatures, and they’ll be unable to meet Thursday’s deadline to get a referendum on the ballot.

Shortly after it became clear that the referendum was dead — for 2020, anyway — Dodd and Gray revived a bill that was first filed in June 2019 and left to languish.

“SCA 6 began during the pandemic. We had just qualified our ballot measure and had started to collect signatures,” said James Siva, chairman of the Mission Band of Morongo Indians. “And then everyone had to stay inside. To the authors that seemed like a good time to proceed, when we were down on the mat. That is the sucker punch I’ve been talking about lately.”

Tribal interests have consistently opposed SCA 6 and were vocal during two hearings in June. They don’t oppose just statewide mobile/internet sports betting, but also a provision in SCA 6 that would unequivocally make California’s card rooms legal — while the tribes have long believed the card rooms encroach on their exclusivity.

California sports betting to be decided by voters

Suffice to say, there are myriad issues and without some sort of compromise, it’s unlikely that California will have legal sports betting in the foreseeable future. Whether they do it together or not, both sides plan to move forward.

“It remains important that we lift this widespread practice out of the shadows to make it safer and to generate money for the people of California,” Dodd said. “I will continue to be engaged in the issue as we work toward 2022.”

Whether a plan for legal sports betting comes from the legislature or the tribes, it will have to go to the voters. In the legislature, a proposed referendum must pass both houses with a two-thirds super majority before it can get to the ballot. On the tribal side, Indian Country must collect more than 1 million signatures to get an initiative on the ballot.

Before Newsom shut down California on March 20, the tribes had already collected more than 950,000 signatures, and they’ve sued the state attorney general to keep those signatures valid so their current referendum can go on the 2022 ballot.

It should have been a clue to anyone following gaming in California when the tribes filed their lawsuit and were aiming to the 2022 ballot. With as powerful and politically connected as the tribes are, they would not have been pointing to 2022 if they believed the legislature had a pathway to legalize sooner.

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