Card Rooms Aim To Block Tribe-Backed California Sports Betting Vote

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The battle surrounding a November 2022 referendum to bring legalized sports betting to California recently became even more convoluted when card room operators asked the California Supreme Court to block the vote on one of several proposals, arguing it violates the state constitution.

The proposal, backed by the Pechanga, Barona, Yocha Dehe, and Agua Caliente tribes, would legalize sports betting at tribal casinos and select in-person sportsbooks at privately-operated racetracks. Sports betting, as well as roulette and dice games, would be allowed on tribal lands pending approval of an amended tribal-state gaming compact.

It does not, however, allow for mobile sports betting.

But Hollywood Park and Cal-Pac Rancho Cordova, two card room operators in the Golden State, believe including roulette and dice games goes against the California constitution’s “one subject rule.” This regulation restricts ballot measures to one subject in an effort not to confuse voters.

“The Initiative’s proponents seek to exploit the popular demand for legal sports wagering by hitching two unpopular wish-list measures to a sports-wagering Initiative,” the suit reads, according to the Sacramento Bee.

The card rooms want the court to mandate Secretary of State Shirley Webster’s refusal to place the initiative before the voters. If the court won’t do that, they want Webster to be forced to explain how the question doesn’t violate the constitution. If the court can’t make a decision by September – when ballots would be printed – the card rooms want the court to push the referendum back to a later date. 

State officials signed off on the required signatures earlier this year and the question, formally known as California Legalize Sports Betting on American Indian Lands Initiative, is the first of several possible sports betting-related questions to be approved for voter consideration next year. 

Californians Want Sports Betting

In what the paper dubbed “not a comprehensive sample” of voters, The Bee asked readers how they felt about sports betting in the Golden State. 

The overwhelming response was favorable.

Nearly 70% of respondents said they wanted sports betting, compared with more than 30% who said no. 

Homelessness Programs Could Benefit From Sports Betting

Several other proposals to bring sports betting to California could appear on the November 2022 ballot.

Sportsbook operators are behind a proposal that would help fund homelessness programs throughout the state. Its formal title is “California Solutions to Homelessness and Mental Health Support Act.” 

This proposal would likewise open up mobile and retail sports betting to non-tribal operators. Under the proposal, 85% of sports betting revenue would go toward combating homelessness and mental health concerns in the state. 

Backers have until May 3 to gather the required 997,139 signatures to get the question on the ballot.

A different initiative backed by tribal interests would also fund homelessness issues. Not to be confused with the sportsbook-backed proposal, the “California Solutions to Homelessness, Public Education Funding, Affordable Housing and Reduction of Problem Gambling Act” would block big-name sportsbooks from profiting from mobile sports betting. 

Since the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 struck down the federal law prohibiting sports betting, more than 30 states have legalized the industry. But California, with its large population, is a big prize. Mobile sports betting has taken off in the last three years, and experts predict it’s the way of the future, leaving retail establishments (and tribal locations) in the cold. 

Similar to the sportsbooks’ proposal, this initiative must gather 997,139 signatures before it is put to referendum. But because it began earlier, backers have until April 25 to collect verified signatures.

About the Author

Mary M. Shaffrey

Mary Shaffrey is an award-winning journalist who co-authored "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Government." She has spent more than 20 years covering government, both at the state and federal level. As a fan of the Baltimore Orioles and the Providence College Friars she feels cursed. Luckily she is a hockey mom too so her spirits aren't totally shot.

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