A California lobbyist and gambling enthusiast says the chances of a ballot initiative making it in front of the voters in the state for legal California sports betting is unlikely.
Kasey Thompson, who has a checkered record in gaming and has postured previously about pushing through ballot proposals in California on the issue, told PlayUSA that he is stepping back due to the controversy it’s causing among tribal nations.
“This initiative was supposed to be for the tribes but is only causing division,” Thompson said earlier this week. “That was never my intent. I see now the needed unity is not coming, and so I’m standing good to my word and not moving forward. I’m pulling it in full.”
California is the most populous state and has the largest state economy in the United States, but it has yet to legalize sports betting. Neither retail nor online sportsbooks are allowed in what is the largest sub-national economy in the world. The state represents 14 of the gross domestic product of the US and would be the fifth-largest economy in the world if it were a single nation.
In November of 2022, voters soundly rejected a pair of ballot proposals that would have each made sports betting legal, under different circumstances. Essentially, it came down to larger tribal nations favoring a commercial sportsbook approach, and smaller tribes wanting to either reject sports betting or make it exclusively a function of federally-recognized tribal nations.
Thompson previously claimed he could have more than a million petitions printed to gather signatures in favor of sports betting, if he received support from key tribal organizations. But, the rancor among tribal leaders, as well as a seeming fear of commercial operators, has muddied the issue and left efforts stalled.
“I would do a lot of things differently,” says Thompson, who reportedly makes a living as a gambler and has a high-profile presence on social media as a high roller. “I would have involved the tribes way earlier and left it in their hands from the beginning.”
Thompson was advocating for two ballot proposals similar in structure to the ones that failed in 2022. A more cohesive coalition was sought among the tribes, which have been split as to whether or how to make sports betting a reality in a state with a population of nearly 40 million. Some popular opinion polls have shown as much as 60% of the state’s residents over 21 supporting some sort of legal sports betting.
In order to place an issue on the statewide ballot, citizens must accumulate millions of signatures and submit them to the state’s ballot boards. In addition, the legitimacy of the signatures must be measured. A draft of the initiative language must also be submitted to the California State Attorney General’s office. Such efforts to gather support can take years.
Ballot initiatives in the state have cost tens of millions and even hundreds of millions of dollars in the past. The 2022 sports betting ballot proposals may have cost more than half a billion dollars in lobbying, when money from outside groups, such as DraftKings and FanDuel, is accounted for.
Ultimately, according to Thompson, it was the larger California tribes who killed new ballot initiative efforts.
“We tried everything until the very end, but it looks like there would be money from the three big tribes against it, making it impossible to pass in a public election.”
If no ballot initiative for sports betting is brought forth in 2024, it may be as late as 2026 before any efforts are rekindled.