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California tribes receive an extra 90 days to qualify sports betting ballot initiative

by: Howard Stutz - - posted on: 06-Jul-2020

California Indian tribes, hoping to qualify a sports betting initiative state’s 2022 ballot, have until the middle of October to finish the signature collection process that was upended by the coronavirus pandemic.

California Indian tribes, hoping to qualify a sports betting initiative state’s 2022 ballot, have until the middle of October to finish the signature collection process that was upended by the coronavirus pandemic.

The tribes had hoped to place a question that could have legalized retail sports betting at Indian casinos and several racetracks in front of California voters on the November 2020 ballot. Still, the tentative ruling last week by California Superior Court Judge James P. Arguelles for a 90-day extension was viewed as a victory for the tribes, who won’t have to restart the entire ballot qualifying process if they reach the signature-gathering threshold.

“This sports wagering initiative will give Californians the option to participate at highly regulated, safe, and experienced gaming locations,” Tribal Chairman Mark Macarro of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, a proponent of the gaming initiative said in an email Sunday to CDC Gaming Reports. “It’s great news that voters will have a chance to support this carefully-crafted measure to ensure responsible sports wagering.”

The ruling sets up a potential debate between the nation’s largest tribal gaming industry and California lawmakers who have proposed their own sports wagering ballot referendum.

Last November, a coalition of 18 California tribes statewide said they were backing the proposed 2020 ballot referendum that, if passed, would allow sports betting at Indian casinos and licensed racetracks. The proposal didn’t include the state’s 72 cardroom casinos, prohibited wagering on games involving California universities and colleges, and had no provision for mobile sports betting.

A few months later, the California legislators dusted off their own sports betting measure, first floated in both 2018 and 2019, that the tribes opposed because it included cardroom casinos and racetracks and allowed for both retail and online sports wagering. The bill’s sponsors shelved the measure last month after being faced with the Herculean task of getting the bill through two Sacramento legislative houses in three days.

Northern California State Sen. Bill Dodd, the measure’s primary sponsor, said he would bring the proposed constitutional amendment back for consideration in another legislative session.

The tribes’ signature-gathering effort to qualify their measure was disrupted by California’s statewide shut down in March due to COVID-19. California’s Indian casinos began to reopen in June.

The tribes collected more than 950,000 signatures but needed an additional 150,000 more to meet the required number to qualify the measure. The tribes filed a lawsuit last month and sought an additional 180 days, but the judge offered a tentative ruling for half the time.

“We appreciate the court’s consideration and recognition of these extraordinary circumstances,” Jacob Meija, vice president of public affairs for Pechanga and a spokesman for the coalition, said an email Sunday. “We are also pleased that the court has retained jurisdiction, which allows us to go back to the judge in case of other shutdowns.”

Sports betting has suffered the same fate as any type of California gambling expansion effort; a lack of consensus among the various stakeholders – Indian casino tribes, cardroom casino owners, racetrack operators, and state lawmakers.

California faces a $54 billion budget shortfall from taxes lost over the last three months due to the business shutdowns ordered by Governor Gavin Newsom in response to COVID-19.

In 2019, gamblers nationwide wagered more than $13 billion legally on sports, a figure that was easily on track to be crushed in 2020 until the pandemic shutdown sports and the gaming industry.

Dodd said the sports betting legalization offered by his legislation would have generated up to $700 million a year in tax revenue for California. But his bill included mobile sports wagering, a sticking point with the tribes.

Analysts believe the technology is an important growth factor in the nationwide expansion of sports gambling and works to deter the reliance sports bettors have on illegal offshore and unregulated online gambling sites.

California is the largest Indian gaming state in the nation, producing more than $8.4 billion in revenue, according to Casino City’s annual Indian Gaming Industry Report.

The racetrack industry, however, has suffered from the closures of Hollywood Park, near Los Angeles, and Bay Meadows, just south of San Francisco.

Last week, Newsom ordered cardroom casinos closed as part of the state’s effort to roll back business reopenings in an effort to slow a COVID-19 spread in the state, which has seen an uptick in the past few weeks.

There are now 18 states with legal sports betting operations. Four states – Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, Washington – have approved sports betting laws and could launch later this year.

Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.

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