Tribes Get More Time On CA Sports Betting Ballot Initiative

Posted on September 16, 2020

California Native American tribes are getting another two months to gather signatures on their sports betting ballot initiative.

Judge James P. Arguelles of the California Superior Court in Sacramento granted the petitioners’ request to extend the deadline another 62 days. The deadline for signature submission is now Dec. 14.

The court set a hearing on the matter for Oct. 9. But the petitioners came to an agreement with the California Secretary of State to jointly file for the extension.

Tribes are seeking to qualify the initiative for the 2022 ballot, or possibly a special election held prior.

“We’ve continued to face strong headwinds created by COVID,” said Jacob Mejia, spokesman for the coalition of tribes backing the initiative. “That more than 1.2 million Californians have signed the petition is a testament to the strength of the proposal. The Court’s decision will allow Californians to exercise their democratic right to bring this issue to a vote.”

Long path of CA sports betting ballot initiative

Tribal leaders introduced the ballot initiative in November 2019 with the intent of making this year’s election.

The initiative amends the state constitution to allow sports betting at tribal casinos and horse racing tracks. The proposal does not permit mobile wagering.

In addition to sports betting, the initiative provides tribal casinos the opportunity to offer craps and roulette. There is also a clause giving tribes an opening to directly go after California cardrooms in civil action to challenge that cardrooms violate their exclusivity on house-banked games.

The initiative was on the way to qualifying for the 2020 ballot before the coronavirus derailed signature-gathering efforts. But the mere presence of the initiative helped rally tribes to defeat a legislative sports betting effort in June.

Initiatives in California have a 180-day limit to collect the needed support, in this case, 997,139 valid signatures. These signatures must be obtained in-person and cannot be collected online.

Lawsuit keeps CA sports betting initiative alive

Before the 180 days expired, the tribes filed a lawsuit requesting an extension given that restrictions issued by the state as a result of the pandemic made signature-gathering difficult. By getting the extension, they wouldn’t have to start over on the initiative process for 2022.

Judge Arguelles previously ruled that the petitioners could have until Oct. 12 to collect signatures. He retained jurisdiction on the matter so that the tribes could seek another extension if warranted.

In July, coronavirus cases grew in California and the number of counties on the state monitoring list requiring additional restrictions increased to 32.

Petitioners successfully argued that the state-imposed restrictions since the Court’s previous order have continued to interfere with their signature gathering. In the filing, petitioners indicated that they made substantial efforts to increase signature-gathering since the previous order but were only able to do so at 16% of their rate from before the stay-at-home orders.

That 16% figure was used to determine the 62-day extension. The figure is 84% of the 74-day extension originally given.

Future for CA sports betting ballot initiative

The original filing indicated that the tribes had gathered 971,373 unverified signatures. Mejia now reports that the initiative has more than 1.2 million signatures.

That is closing in on being comfortable that there are enough valid signatures to qualify. The coalition’s goal is to reach 1.6 million signatures.

Coronavirus conditions in the state are improving, although a large percentage of the population remains in the strictest reopening tier.

With the state going through fire season, the pandemic, and fall flu season approaching, Mejia told PlayCA that the coalition wants to wrap up the signature-gathering as soon as possible and hopes that another extension won’t be needed.

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Matthew Kredell

Matthew has covered efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling since 2007. His reporting on the legalization of sports betting began in 2010 with an article for Playboy Magazine on how the NFL was pushing US money overseas by fighting the expansion of regulated sports betting. A USC journalism alum, Matt started his career as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News and has written on a variety of topics for Playboy, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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