California Supreme Court Dismisses Suit Against Tribal Sports Betting Measure

Posted on: February 24, 2022, 03:59h. 

Last updated on: February 24, 2022, 01:47h.

California’s highest court announced Wednesday that it denied efforts by cardroom operators in the state to prevent a tribal gaming-backed sports betting initiative from getting on this year’s ballot.

Tani Cantil-Sakauye
California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye presides over a virtual court session in April 2020. On Wednesday, she announced the state’s top court denied a request by two cardroom casinos to keep tribal-backed sports betting measures from getting on the November general election ballot. (Image: Courts.CA.Gov)

Chief Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye issued a one-sentence ruling on behalf of the entire court. It said that the writ of mandate and a request for a stay by the Hollywood Park Casino and Parkwest Casino Cordova was denied.

The two cardroom operators filed the suit two months ago against Secretary of State Shirley Weber and listed the “Coalition to Authorize Regulated Sports Wagering” and the chairs of four tribes as parties of interest in the case.

The coalition is a tribal-backed political organization leading a ballot initiative that would allow the state’s tribal casinos and four state-licensed race tracks to operate retail sportsbooks on their premises. Last May, state officials verified supporters got more than 1 million verified signatures from registered voters to put the question on the November 2022 ballot. Proponents needed 997,139 registered voters to sign.

In addition to sports betting, the initiative also would allow the state’s tribal casinos to amend their gaming compacts with the state to offer roulette and dice-based games.

The cardrooms in their suit claimed that the initiative violated the single-subject provision for ballot measures, citing the combination of expanded casino offerings along with the introduction of sports betting.

Tribal leaders responded to the case, calling the cardroom operators hypocrites. Besides poker, the state-licensed cardrooms can only offer variants of such games.

Other Measures May Make Ballot

Right now, the retail sportsbook measure is the only sports betting initiative that’s been verified for this year’s ballot. However, besides the cardroom initiative, there are petitions circulating for two other sports betting measures.

One measure is backed by seven national sports betting operators that would allow online sports betting apps statewide. Licenses would cost $100 million for national operators. Tribal entities would be able to participate for $10 million. But their apps would be tied to either their casino name or trademark.

Both the cardroom-backed and the national operator proposals call for the state’s proceeds to benefit mental health and homelessness issues. The national operator proposal also would fund some tribal economic development initiatives.

Tribal gaming leaders have come out against both proposals, arguing they would be best suited to operate sports betting in the state. In response to those efforts to bring mobile betting to the largest state in the US, a group of tribes has come out with their own mobile initiative.

Petitions for the cardroom, national operator, and tribal mobile sports betting measures are currently being circulated. It’s expected they would need to have their signatures into elections officials within the next two months to give workers enough time to verify signatures.

The battle plans to be an expensive one. Both the national operators and tribal entities expect to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on campaigns to promote their initiative or oppose competing measures.

Poll: Support for California Sports Betting Under 50%

On Wednesday, researchers at UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies released a poll showing sports betting had a plurality of support – but not a majority.

The Berkeley IGS poll found that 45 percent of registered voters surveyed earlier this month would vote for a constitutional amendment to legalize sports betting in the state. One-third of respondents said they’re against the measure, while 22 percent remain undecided.

The poll, funded by the Los Angeles Times, surveyed 4,477 registered voters in the state and has a margin of error of 3 percentage points. A breakdown of the data showed that both Republicans (41-37) and Democrats (44-32) support sports betting. But those without a party preference gave the measure stronger support (47-33).

It is rare these days for a political issue to not be seen as partisan,” IGS Co-Director Eric Schickler said in a statement. “But legalizing sports betting in California appears to be one of them, at least for the time being.”

In addition, 54 percent of Black respondents would vote for sports betting. Researchers found 55 percent of men support legalization, while women currently are leaning slightly against sports betting (35-37).

While the poll gives supporters of sports betting some good news, there are still some concerns that multiple sports betting measures on the same ballot may doom them all. Tribal leaders have cited the only time they’ve lost on a gaming measure in recent years came in 2004, when a competing measure was on the ballot