California Sports Betting Update: More City, Civic Leaders Take Their Stand

Posted on: May 19, 2022, 11:57h. 

Last updated on: May 21, 2022, 11:46h.

UPDATE 5/21 2:30 pm ET – This story has been updated to include a response from a spokeswoman for “Coalition for Safe, Responsible Gaming” regarding concerns from cardrooms over the tribal sports betting measure’s language allowing lawsuits against illegal gaming operations.

A group of officials from the Los Angeles area came out with statements Thursday to express their opposition to a retail sports betting initiative backed by California tribal gaming leaders.

Hollywood sign
The iconic Hollywood sign in the Santa Monica Mountains overlooking Los Angeles. Leaders from LA area cities on Thursday issued statements opposing a sports betting measure proposed by tribal gaming leaders, saying it would threaten cardrooms, which are a vital revenue source for the communities. (Image: Linnaea Mallette/

The statements were issued in a release distributed by “Taxpayers Against Special Interest Monopolies,” a political action committee funded mainly by cardroom operators. Several smaller cities in Los Angeles County have commercially licensed cardrooms, including Bell Gardens.

Bell Gardens City Councilmember Alejandra Cortez said when the Bicycle Hotel and Casino was forced to close two years ago because of the pandemic, it led to a major loss of funding for the city.

“Our city relies significantly on the Bicycle Hotel and Casino, as they contribute 46% of the City’s General Fund revenues, or over $15 million annually,” Cortez said. “This revenue helps us fund our police department, parks and community services, and public works.”

The opposition to the measure isn’t just tied to the expansion of sports betting at California tribal casinos and the state’s four thoroughbred racetracks. Cardrooms and their allies are also concerned about the measure’s other aspects, which include allowing tribal casinos to offer dice games and roulette and giving tribes and others greater ability to take the cardrooms to court.

A spokeswoman for the “Coalition for Safe, Responsible Gaming,” which is funded mainly by tribal casinos, said that the provision cardrooms question deals with illegal gaming operations and that cardrooms that act legally need not be concerned.

“Our measure will not shut down a single cardroom casino that’s operating legitimately,” Kathy Fairbanks said in a statement to “The only cardroom casinos at risk of legal enforcement are those that repeatedly violate California gaming laws.”

Cardroom that have a history of operating illegally have pushed the “myth” that the tribal gaming measure would shutdown legal operators, Fairbanks added.

LA Area Could Lose Millions in Taxes, Leaders Claim

The release by the political committee Thursday claimed the Los Angeles area could lose more than $70 million in direct tax revenue if the tribal measure passes. Most of that impact would be felt by the smaller cities.

Compton Mayor Emma Sharif said Los Angeles County cardrooms employ more than 9,100 workers and generate $370 million annually in wages.

Cardrooms have provided a livelihood for thousands of Californians who would otherwise struggle to find gainful employment,” Sharif said. “This measure will deprive all of those hardworking community members the ability to take care of their families and sustain economic stability and growth for our city.”

The committee also released a statement from an Olympic water polo gold medalist Brenda Villa, who credited the aquatic center in the City of Commerce for helping her become a four-time Olympian.

“Much like that facility, our city’s wonderful programs and resident services are at risk if the tribal gaming measure that’s on the ballot passes in November,” Villa said. “I would hate to see the future of our Commerce youth, along with the resources our senior citizens need to survive and thrive, taken away due to a harmful ballot measure that benefits a select few.”

Tribes Rally Opposition Against Online Measure

The tribal measure is slated to be on the November general election ballot. It’s one of two sports betting measures that could go before voters in less than six months. The other is a proposal to legalize online wagering that’s backed by $100 million in funding by seven national sports betting operators.

The cardrooms tried to get a sports betting measure on the ballot as well, but its petition drive failed. The tribal measure’s petitions were counted last year, and state elections officials determined it met the signature requirements. Those same elections officials are now reviewing signatures for the online initiative to determine if its supporters have secured the more than 997,000 signatures from valid registered voters needed to get on the ballot.

While officials verify those signatures, tribal gaming groups are also mounting opposition to the online wagering initiative.

Last week, the “Coalition for Safe, Responsible Gaming,” released statements from business groups that oppose the online measure. Those organizations said allowing out-of-state operators to have control of online wagering would threaten more than 125,000 tribal casino jobs across the state and billions in economic impact the tribal casinos create.

“As Native American people, we are proud of the fact that tribal casinos have proven to be powerful economic engines in tribal and non-tribal communities alike,” American Indian Chamber of Commerce of California President Tracy Stanhoff said in a statement.

The online measure would allow tribal operators to offer sports betting as well, but with restrictions on branding.

“This measure would give online gambling corporations near total control over the sports wagering market, effectively hijacking any local economic benefits for our small businesses, while sending 90% of profits from sports gambling out-of-state and even out of country,” California Asian Pacific Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Pat Fong Kushida said in a statement.