California Tribes Make The First Move In Looming Sports Betting Showdown

A group of California tribes filed a ballot measure that would put sports betting on the 2020 ballot. The proposal would amend the California constitution to allow sports betting at tribal casinos and racetracks in California, and secondarily, allow tribal casinos to add craps and roulette games.

In addition to authorizing retail sports betting at tribal casinos and racetracks, here’s what we know about the proposal.

  • The measure does not, in and of itself, authorize online or mobile sports betting.
  • Wagering on high school and California college events is prohibited.
  • Bettors must be 21 or older (some California tribal casinos are 18+)
  • Sports betting is taxed at 10%, with the money earmarked for public safety, mental health programs, education, and regulatory costs.

Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad

Noticeably absent from the measure are the state’s licensed cardrooms.

As noted in a recent column, the complex and often contentious relationship between California’s gaming tribes, legal cardrooms, and racing industry is the largest obstacle between the state and legalized sports betting.

Each group is politically powerful and capable of stopping gaming legislation in its tracks. That is evidenced by the unsuccessful, near-decade-long fiasco to legalize online poker in California.

But just how powerful are the state’s cardrooms? It looks like we might find out next year.

Why Sports betting Is Different Than Online Poker

Unlike the online poker fights, where a two-thirds majority is required for passage in the legislature, the constitutional amendment to legalize sports betting is circumventing the California legislature and going straight to the voters.

And because California only requires ballot initiatives to garner about one million signatures (8% of the total votes in the most recent gubernatorial election), there is little doubt the measure will make it to the voters next November.

Will Tribes Get the Sports Betting They Want?

Hindsight being 20/20, Victor Rocha’s comments at the Sports Betting USA Conference suddenly make a lot more sense, “sports betting in California will happen the way the tribes want it, not the way (anyone else) wants it.”

And right now, it looks like the tribes are content with retail sports betting at their casinos (along with the addition of craps and roulette) and the state’s racetracks.

The unanswered question is whether or not the constitutional amendment will pass.

Even if you ignore the expected opposition to the measure, sports betting on a ballot is anything but a slam dunk.

A similar, and far less controversial ballot initiative barely passed in Colorado, largely because of the strange wording voters had to unravel.

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