California Retail Sports Betting Could Hit The Ballot In 2026, Mobile Gaming In 2028

Written By TJ McBride on April 4, 2024
Barona Casino Resort near San Diego could benefit if retail sports betting in CA is legalized in 2026

A new push for California sports betting could be on the way in 2026, albeit only for retail options.

According to Indian Gaming Association Conference Chair Victor Rocha, who spoke to Compliance+More, the state’s major tribes are coming together to support retail sports wagering.

Those hoping for the launch of a California online sports betting market will have to wait until at least 2028, according to Rocha’s timeline.

Rocha says many tribes are united on this approach and timeline

The major tribes in the California gaming space agreeing on a path forward may be the keys to unlocking what could be the largest sports betting market in the country. According to Rocha, that is precisely what is happening right now.

“The tribes that matter, the politically active ones who have put money into this, are united on that approach,” he said.

The approach in question is to have multiple tribes work together to bring retail sports wagering to California in 2026, then add online sports betting two years later. In that pursuit, the tribes could find an unlikely ally in commercial sports betting operators.

That might seem strange since commercial gaming operators and California tribes usually are on opposing sides of the battle. But recently, the Sports Betting Alliance joined forces with the tribes to shoot down a California sports betting initiative.

The initiative’s sponsors approached the Sports Betting Alliance, which is made up of DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM and Fanatics, about helping the legislation succeed. The Sports Betting Alliance refused and instead backed the tribes in opposing it. The initiative has since been abandoned.

Since California tribes and commercial operators worked together to stop sports betting legislation in the state, they also could work together to advance it.

If commercial operators strengthen their relationships with the tribes, it could give them more of a say when mobile sports wagering is considered in 2028 or later.

Plenty of hurdles and no need to rush

Considering that every path to California sports betting that did not include the tribes has been dead on arrival for years now, the tribes see no reason to rush into sports betting.

Instead, they are taking their time to be certain that any gaming expansion is in their best interests and ensure they are not being taken advantage of. Rocha has said as much.

“The tribes can wait longer than that,” he said. “We know how important this is. It is not just about us. It is about ensuring our tribes’ futures.”

So while 2026 for retail sports betting and 2028 for online sports betting are good goals, they are by no means written in stone, especially as the tribes have no interest in expediting the process.

When PlayUSA’s Matthew Kredell spoke to FanDuel President Christian Genetski, he shared the same sentiment, saying:

“Will [legalization] happen by 2026? Well, it’s the first time it can happen. I can go on record that it’s not happening before that. But whether it’s 2026, 2028 or 2030, we’ll know when we know.”


Image Credit: Denis Poroy / AP Images

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TJ McBride

T.J. McBride is a writer and reporter based in Denver. He covers the gaming landscape across multiple states in addition to his main beat covering the NBA's Denver Nuggets. His NBA work can be found at several major media outlets including ESPN, FiveThirtyEight and Bleacher Report.

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