Is An Earlier Vote On California Sports Betting Likely, Or Even Possible? 

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A California sports betting initiative will be on a statewide ballot. The question is, will it be the Nov. 2022 general election ballot or be put to an earlier vote? 

That question surfaced this week after the California Secretary of State’s Office announced a petition to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom succeeded in collecting enough valid signatures for a recall vote. 

Now, the pending recall vote has supporters of the ballot initiative — which would allow sports betting at tribal casinos and select racetracks, pending approval of a tribal-state gaming compact — debating if a vote tentatively slated for the Nov. 2022 general election could be moved up to a special recall election or the June 2022 primary.

Tribal Chairman Bo Mazzetti of the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians seemed open to an earlier vote in a Thursday email to Gaming Today. The Rincon tribe is one of several federally-recognized tribes supporting the initiative, which the state last month decided is eligible for the statewide ballot. 

“Everything is based on timing and we are waiting and watching to see how things evolve,” Mazzetti said.

But which election is the best fit — or even a possibility — for the initiative? 

Three Elections, One Sports Betting Initiative

Special Recall Election

A ballot initiative vote during a special recall election is a nonstarter, according to at least one state agency’s view of the California Constitution. 

That agency is the California Secretary of State’s Office which clearly states on its website “… Initiatives and referenda will not appear on a gubernatorial recall ballot,” and gives the reasons why: 

  • Only the Governor can constitutionally call a special election for an initiative. During a recall, it is the Lt. Governor who calls the special election. 
  • An initiative has to qualify for the ballot at least 131 days before a regularly scheduled statewide general election or a special election held earlier. “Since recall elections are called 60 to 80 days before the recall election occurs,” says the Secretary of State’s website,” there is not enough time to place an initiative on a recall ballot.” 

California 2022 Direct Primary Election 

It’s uncertain if the ballot initiative could appear on the state’s primary election ballot on June 7, 2022. 

Although the primary is a regularly scheduled statewide election, it isn’t a general election. A 2011 California state law requires that ballot initiatives only go to a vote during statewide general elections, although there has been talk in the press of placing the sports betting initiative on an earlier ballot. 

Another question is whether ballot initiatives already deemed eligible under state law for the 2022 ballot could be moved to an earlier vote. Sports betting initiative supporters are looking into the possibility

Before the 2011 law changed the rules, California allowed ballot measures to appear on either primary or general election ballots, depending on when petition signatures were qualified by the Secretary of State. 

Nov. 2022 General Election 

The other possibility is for the sports betting initiative to wait it out and stay in queue for the Nov. 8, 2022 statewide general election. 

The California Secretary of State determined May 27 that the initiative is eligible to appear on that ballot as a combined initial constitutional amendment and state statute. That means both the state constitution and one or more state gambling laws would be changed to allow limited expanded gambling — including sports betting — with voter approval. 

The initiative will officially qualify for the ballot on the 131st day before the 2022 statewide general election, per the Secretary of State’s website. 

A Brief History of the California Sports Betting Initiative

The push to bring the initiative to the ballot is part of a nearly $12 million campaign organized by the tribal-organized Coalition to Authorize Regulated Sports Wagering.

At least 18 California tribes are supporting the campaign, with five of those tribes among the campaign’s top donors.

The ballot initiative itself was filed in Nov. 2019 by chairmen of four of the tribes supporting the statewide effort. In Dec. 2020, the initiative’s campaign announced that it had collected about 1.4 million signatures for verification. A deadline to verify the number of valid signatures was extended to March 2021 because of pandemic-related delays, with the last extension granted on April 22.

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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