Could A California Recall Election Include Sports Betting?

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California sports betting legalization seems inevitable. State legislators pushed for it as recently as 2020, only pulling the bill after opposition from the state’s tribal nations. Now the issue is on track for a statewide vote in 2022 as part of a $12 million ballot initiative launched by the tribes. 

All that is needed to get the initiative on the 2022 ballot is certification of petition signatures by the state. That is supposed to happen this month, with more than enough signatures expected — 997,139 valid signatures are required, and 1.4 million signatures have been filed. 

But there are rumblings that a vote on legalization could happen a year early. The idea? To include California sports betting legalization on a possible 2021 statewide ballot to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom. 

A recall appears increasingly likely. Whether California sports betting legalization will be on the same ballot is a bit more complicated. 

How California Sports Betting Could Make A Recall Ballot

A 2011 California statute requires that ballot measures only go to a vote during general elections. 

The current California sports betting ballot initiative was filed in 2019 in preparation for a 2022 statewide vote. Petition signatures were required to be filed with the state last July, but COVID-19 delays allowed organizers to get the deadline extended to December 2020. 

California counties had until March 9, 2021 to report the number of valid signatures on the initiative petition to the state, but state certification is required. The deadline for certification of the signatures is 131 days before the general election, or late June 2022. 

The chance for the initiative to make a recall ballot this fall depends on how quickly the initiative qualifies for the ballot, and the direction that the tribal nations and their partners want to take. 

It’s possible that sports betting could make the cut. Another ballot measure, on tobacco products, is considered most likely to be moved to a 2021 recall ballot because it has already made the ballot in 2022.

The Benefit Of A 2022 Vote

A spokesman for the 2022 sports betting initiative campaign says that the tribes and their partners are looking into legal aspects of an earlier vote. 

There are benefits to moving the vote to 2021. Retail sports betting (sportsbooks would be limited to tribal casinos and licensed tracks) could get an earlier start. That means that retail sports betting at tribal casinos and licensed race tracks in California could open to sports betting in 2022, rather than 2023. 

Still, a 2022 vote has its advantages: 

  • A general election vote could also increase the initiative’s chance at passage. Voter turnout is historically larger during general elections, which means more eyes on the ballot at the polls. 
  • Continued vaccine rollout nationwide would also make 2022 a less contentious election year than, say, 2020. 
  • Having a measure on the ballot in 2022 could be less expensive, say local sources. 

What’s Next

The ballot initiative has to qualify for the ballot in 2022 before it likely has any chance of being considered for an earlier ballot position.

Then there’s the issue of the recall election itself. Chances that the governor will face recall look good, but a recall election isn’t a sure thing yet. 

It will be at least next month before California officials tally signatures on the recall petitions. 

After those names are state-verified, voters will have 30 business days to pull their name from the petition if they so choose. Even if some voters remove their names here or there, it isn’t expected to have much of an effect. Over 2 million signatures have been collected — many of those already verified. 

Another issue is California’s history of actually following through with removing their governors. The last California governor to be recalled was Gov. Gray Davis in 2003. 

Fifty-four other attempts at recalling California’s governor have failed.

About the Author

Rebecca Hanchett

Rebecca Hanchett is a political writer based in Kentucky's Bluegrass region who covers legislative developments at Gaming Today. She worked as a public affairs specialist for 23 years at the Kentucky State Capitol. A University of Kentucky grad, she has been known to watch UK basketball from time to time.

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