California Sports Betting Heading to 2022 Ballot as Tribes Gather 1.4 Million Signatures

Posted on: December 15, 2020, 08:18h. 

Last updated on: December 15, 2020, 10:41h.

A coalition of California tribal operators has secured more than 1.4 million signatures in support of a ballot initiative to legalize sports betting.

California sports betting
The California sports betting market could be the biggest in the US, although not under the tribes’ current vision. (Image: Chicago-Sun Times)

Coalition spokesperson Jacob Mejia confirmed to CDC Gaming Reports Monday that the target of 997,000 had been surpassed and the petitions have been quietly handed to state officials. If ratified, it should be enough to put the issue on the ballot for California voters in November 2022, possibly even 2021.

Mejia said the numbers reflected “strong support to allow sports wagering in a responsible manner” in California. Mejia is also VP of Public Affairs for the powerful Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians.

California voters are predicted to legalize sports betting when presented with the opportunity.

Card Club Feud

The coalition had hoped to deliver the petitions in the fall. But the campaign was hamstrung by the coronavirus pandemic. The deadline was moved to December 14 by a state judge.

Its apparent success will put the onus back on the state legislature to build a competing proposal for a more inclusive sports betting market in California. The coalition’s measure makes no room for the state’s card clubs, reserving sports betting exclusively for tribal casinos and the state’s racetracks.

The tribes will not sanction gaming expansion for the commercial clubs while these venues continue to offer so-called “California Games.” These are modified versions of blackjack and other card games that the tribes claim infringe upon their exclusivity on casino gaming.    

The card clubs are also the reason the tribes have left mobile gaming off the initiative. Current California and federal law suggest the tribes would only be permitted to offer digital betting to gamblers within their reservations. But to campaign for state laws to be changed to authorize statewide online betting would potentially be benefiting the card clubs.

$1.4 Billion in Year One?

With a population larger than Canada’s, California could quickly become the biggest sports-betting market in the US.

Deutsche Bank analyst Carlo Santarelli said in a note to investors Sunday that the market could handle $1.4 billion in its first year, a figure that could nearly double by 2027. But that’s based on the inclusion of the card clubs and the adoption of statewide mobile betting.

With the state facing down a budget deficit of $54 billion, the legislature is eager for new recurring revenue streams, which is why sports betting proponents in Sacramento want to maximize potential market revenue.

This means lawmakers need to find a way to unite the interests of the tribes and the card clubs. If they don’t, the tribes’ vision of a limited market will have a free run at the ballot.