The November 2024 election is barely a year away, and no California sports betting initiatives have been filed.
Less than a year ago, California voters defeated two competing sports betting measures at the polls in historical fashion. The Golden State represented – and still represents – the gold standard of a market, potentially worth billions in annual revenue.
The failed initiatives of 2022 came at a price tag of more than $458 million, nearly half of which was spent by the tribes to keep out-of-state sportsbooks from entering California.
Whether both parties feel it’s too soon or too costly to try again, all signs point to sports betting remaining illegal in California.
Window is closing quickly on legal sports betting in California
Although there are no legal sportsbooks in the state, California sports betting does allow a social sportsbook, at least for now. Players can play Fliff for free or buy Fliff Cash with real money. It’s the latter that a lawsuit argues is illegal in California. A man claims he lost more than $7,000 betting on sports through Fliff. The next hearing on the case is later this month.
The CA Secretary of State’s website lists June 27, 2024, as the final day to determine if a measure qualifies for ballot access in November. Measures must obtain a requisite number of signatures to qualify, 874,641 in the case of this election cycle.
Two suggested deadlines have now passed without a proposed measure.
- July 3, 2023: Suggested last day to submit proposed measures to the Attorney General.
- Sept. 7, 2023: Last day for the Attorney General to prepare and issue the circulating title and summary.
March 2024 marks the next round of deadlines, where per the Secretary of State determines whether a petition meets the requirements. Petitions must be filed by March 5. Counts will then be completed before minimum signature requirement.
Last-minute efforts seem unlikely in California
The suggested nature of these guidelines may not mark the official death of 2024 sports betting measures in California, but the silence from tribes and sportsbook operators alike has said enough.
Sept. 7 also marked the beginning of the circulation window for petitions, meaning any efforts moving forward will already be significantly behind schedule for next March.
Additionally, there’s been hardly any talk of future efforts coming together. Post-election polls show that 65% of Californians oppose online sports betting, which alone could be enough to keep everybody on the sidelines for another election cycle.
The recent campaigns are fresh in voters’ minds, and prospective operators must find a new and improved angle to get a better result in the future. That takes time, and it’s still too soon. Any measure with holes in it is doomed to sink.
How much damage did 2022 do?
Two tribal coalitions spent $220 million to defeat last year’s online sports betting initiative, led by industry leaders like DraftKings, FanDuel and BetMGM — who all wanted to launch DraftKings CA, FanDuel CA and BetMGM CA.
Tribes hold a monopoly on casinos in California and have a favorable reputation in the eyes of the public. Many more voters backed them and sent a clear message to the out-of-state sportsbook operators.
DraftKings CEO Jason Robins said after the election,
“The lesson learned is if anyone wants to drop that kind of spend, it doesn’t matter what the issue is. You could defeat any ballot initiative pretty much, at least for a period of time. … I’d say, as of now, there’s really just too much tribal opposition to imagine us getting anything done.”
After the election, the tribes and sportsbook operators said they would reevaluate their paths. Neither side appears to have made enough progress so far, with the tribes content to maintain their lucrative status quo in the meantime.
No legalization without cooperation in CA
Until sports betting is legalized in CA, it will remain the largest untapped market in the world. With 2024 unlikely to produce new legislation, the discussion will shift to its possibilities of happening in 2026.
Any progress will require cooperation on multiple levels.
First, the tribes must come together and find a unanimously agreed-upon solution. The retail-only Proposition 26 left too much on the table. They must realize that the best route forward includes online sports betting.
Second, online operators must make amends with the tribes and work with them to create a viable product worthy of gaining voters’ approval.
FanDuel has been contacting tribes recently in an effort to extend an olive branch. It remains to be seen if partnerships can be struck in the future.
Third, the sports betting product needs to benefit the state and its residents. Proposition 27’s claims to fix homelessness were a Band-Aid on a flesh wound at best and dishonest at worst.
California’s prospective sports betting pie has plenty of pieces for all to eat heartily. But everyone must cooperate to bake that pie in the first place. Without that happening, we’ll be talking about what went wrong again three years from now.