Tribal California Sports Betting Effort Might Be In Jeopardy

Posted on April 6, 2020

Native American tribes participating in California’s sports betting initiative have suspended collecting signatures as a result of the coronavirus shutdown. 

Jacob Mejia, a spokesperson for the initiative effort, had this to say:

“Because the health and well being of Californians is foremost, we paused paid signature-gathering efforts for the time being. Tribal leadership remains committed to bringing this proposal to voters in November and are monitoring developments closely and assessing all options.”

Many thought the effort to gather signatures was progressing quickly enough to make the ballot only a few weeks ago. But now it is clear that either legislation or the governor will need to intervene with an extension before the April 21 deadline to submit signatures for random sample verification.


Do California Tribes Have Enough Signatures Already?

Based on the types of laws being changed, the sports betting initiative requires 997,139 valid signatures in order to make the November ballot and have a chance at becoming a constitutional amendment.

“We are just shy of 1 million signatures and would have reached our goal well ahead of the deadline before the unprecedented orders around COVID-19,” Mejia said after the tribes had initially aimed to gather more than 1.5 million signatures to ensure enough were valid.

The sports betting initiative is one of eight initiatives to already have at least 25% of the required signatures. Representatives are hoping that they already have enough signatures to get on the ballot or that they can resume collecting in time to get more.


Opposition Gathers Resources

Coronavirus concerns have not stopped California’s card rooms from beginning a well-funded opposition to tribal sports betting efforts.

The No on the Gambling Power Grab campaign is a group of objectors to the sports betting initiative comprised of self-described “local leaders, licensed card clubs and their employees, law enforcement and local businesses.”

A state filing for contributions dated March 27, 2020 shows $7 million in contributions from the following casinos and companies providing proposition player services:

  • Parkwest Casinos: $2,250,000
  • Hawaiian Gardens Casino: $500,000
  • Hollywood Park Casino: $500,000
  • Bicycle Casino: $500,000
  • Knighted Ventures LLC: $2,250,000 (prop player services)
  • PT Gaming LLC: $500,000 (prop player services)
  • Elevation Entertainment Group: $500,000

Steven Maviglio, a spokesman for the “no” campaign, had this to say: “Seven million is just the down payment, there’s a lot more where that came from. Their business is at stake, their employees are at stake and a lot of tax money is at stake.”

When asked about the “no” campaign’s efforts to hire staff, conduct polling, and produce advertising despite the uncertainty of the initiative, Maviglio declared “There’s no stake through the heart yet. The tribes are trying a number of things to make the card clubs not be able to exist, destroy local city budgets and cause thousands of people to permanently lose their jobs. We’re going to have an aggressive campaign to make sure it doesn’t pass and that means putting in money now.”


The Road Ahead

It is going to be very difficult for the sports betting initiative to get their required signatures by April 21.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has put a shelter-in-place order into action that he says could last up to eight weeks and companies contracted to collect signatures have shut down in the name of social distancing.

There is no option to change the number of required signatures as that would require a constitutional amendment.

The only remaining possibility for the initiative to make the ballot would be an executive order or urgent legislation to extend the signature deadline.

Although he has been asked by companies that gather signatures to extend the deadline, Gov. Newsom has been non-committal. This is just one of many issues he is processing related to the coronavirus pandemic.

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