California Tribes Have Time on Their Side in Sports Betting Petition Push

Posted on: July 2, 2020, 01:31h. 

Last updated on: July 2, 2020, 03:06h.

California Superior Court Judge James Arguelles has granted a coalition of Native American tribes operating casinos in the state more time to collect petition signatures for a sports betting ballot proposal, an effort previously stymied by the coronavirus shutdown.

Sports Betting Coalition Gets More Time
The outside of California Superior Court, Sacramento, where Judge James Arguelles granted tribes more time to collect signatures for a sport betting proposal. (Image: Sacramento Bee)

The tribes are hoping to add an amendment to the state constitution that would permit sports betting only at their casinos. Under California law, a petition drive to alter the constitution requires 997,139 signatures. The consortium behind the California Sports Wagering Regulation and Unlawful Gambling Enforcement Act had more than 971,000 as of mid-March. But the drive was halted following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) shelter-in-place directive.

California groups seeking to amend the constitution, regardless of the issue, typically aim for more than the mandated 997,139 signatures to allot for folks that possibly sign the petition multiple times or those using fake names. In the case of the tribal coalition, the goal is to collect 1.3 million signatures.

The group argued the original July 20 deadline to end the circulation of the petition wasn’t reasonable because of the COVID-19 shutdown. Arguelles agreed, granting the tribal operators an extension to Oct. 12.

Still a Long Way Off

The judge’s ruling is a victory for the tribes, but not for Golden State gamblers that are anxious to place legitimate sports wagers, because the timeline for bringing legal sports betting to the largest state isn’t changing.

The deadline for submitting initiatives for consideration by California voters this November was June 25, and there’s no wiggle room there. Essentially what the tribes are looking for in seeking an extension on the signature-gathering effort is the ability to carry over legitimate written names attained this year to 2022, rather than having to restart the costly plan again at the start of that year.

With the June 25 deadline in the rearview mirror, the earliest any sports wagering proposal can be considered by California voters is November 2022, meaning it would be some time in 2023 before the first legal sports bet is placed in the state.

Hurdles Remain

Even with the Arguelles ruling, California tribes still have some hurdles ahead. For example, coronavirus cases in the state are spiking, prompting Newsom on Wednesday to issue an order shuttering a variety of indoor businesses, including cardrooms –- the nemesis of tribal operators.

Assuming the tribes gather the required number of marks and place the sports betting issue on the 2022 ballot, opposition could sprout up.

Golden State policymakers could revive a bill yanked last month that would allow several racetracks there to offer sports betting. That proposal also included a clause allowing for statewide mobile wagering in 2023.

That would be to the liking of plenty of commercial gaming companies, as it would grant those firms access to what could eventually be the biggest sports betting market in the US. But the tribes say that the inclusion of pari-mutuel operators in any sports wagering scheme threatens their exclusivity pact with the state.