California Sports Betting Ballot Initiative Goes Down in Flames, Gathers No Signatures

Posted on: March 6, 2019, 05:10h. 

Last updated on: March 6, 2019, 05:16h.

A campaign to put sports betting on the California ballot has hit the skids without gathering a single signature of support, but Russel Lowery — consultant for the group Californians for Sports Betting — told LegalSportsReport this week he believed he had at least “started a conversation” in the Golden State.

California sports betting
The California gambling landscape is a complicated patchwork of interests and alliances that largely pits powerful tribal operators against card clubs. As such, California sports betting will have a hard time becoming a reality anytime soon. (Image: LA Times)

Californians for Sports Betting aimed to force the question onto the 2020 ballot — letting voters decide on an issue that was unlikely to be resolved quickly in the legislature, largely due to resistance from most, but not all, of the state’s powerful tribal casino operators.

The group needed around 623,000 signatures — representing 5 percent of the total votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election. But according to Lowery, the initiative lacked the financial support of potential stakeholders in a future California sports betting market.

No One Believed In It

Or, more accurately, according to LSR, there wasn’t enough backing for the initiative from the card clubs to overcome the amount of money the tribes would throw into an effort to defeat it.

Some $2 to $3 million would be needed to afford the manpower required to launch a signature-gathering campaign, according to LSR.

Anyone can get to the ballot — that was never the challenge — you’ve got to get to the ballot with something that can win,” Lowery explained.

California Split

The Californians for Sports Betting campaign emerged last summer, around the time the California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA) said it would oppose any California sports betting bill unless the state did more to address the prevalence of banked card games.

Tribal operators have been engaged in a bitter seven-year feud with the card clubs’ so called “California Games” which, they argue, are an infringement of their exclusivity on Class II gaming. Some tribes have since sued the state and many of its card clubs over banked games.

The campaign had the hallmarks of an initiative that originated with the card clubs because it attempted to solve the tribes’ beef over banked games by allowing them to offer craps and roulette, while the card clubs would be permitted blackjack and other “Nevada-style card games,” and both would get to run sports betting.

In a sense, the initiative wasn’t really about sports betting at all.

But the tribes are only really concerned with preserving the status quo, as long as the status quo represents a good deal and a multibillion dollar industry.

These days, they pay much less money to the state, thanks to a 2010 federal court ruling. And they’re unwilling to reopen risky negotiations on gambling expansion — especially for a low-margin vertical like sports betting.