California Sports Betting Is Still Alive After Another Committee Hearing

Written By Derek Helling on June 9, 2020
Sports betting alive in California

If the full California Senate voting on a sports betting bill is the drama, then the overture is now playing. A Senate committee has put the amendment proposal in position for such consideration.

The CA Senate Appropriations Committee moved SCA 6 to the “suspense file” in its meeting on Tuesday afternoon. The bill that could make online sports betting in California a reality will now undergo a thorough review and from there, it could move along quickly or suffer an inglorious and silent death.

What did the California Senate committee decide Tuesday?

Appropriations committees are parts of legislative bodies that consider the financial impacts of pieces of legislation. It’s their job to act as “gatekeepers” to ensure that before the full bodies vote on proposals, all the information on the fiscal consequences of enacting the bills is available for members.

Part of that process in CA is having the Senate’s Finance Office review bills. People who work in that office produce reports that estimate the financial impact on many parties in the state if a bill were to become law.

It’s unusual for Appropriations to vote to advance a bill without such a report. If the committee encounters a bill without such a report attached, it usually takes one of two actions.

The first is to shelve the bill, which could effectively kill it. The second common choice is to suspend it, which puts it on the agenda for the Finance Office.

Although none of the committee members objected to moving the bill to suspension, CA Sen. Bob Wieckowski did raise a question. He was curious about a requirement in SCA 6 for tribal casinos to contribute 1 percent of revenue from their sports betting handles to problem gambling treatment funds.

Wieckowski pointed out that the proposal placed a cap of $10 million annually on that contribution. He wondered aloud whether that would be sufficient funding for the program’s needs.

So what happens to SCA 6 now?

Since the CA Senate Appropriations Committee moved SCA 6 to suspension, the committee now waits. Once the Finance Office finishes its review, Appropriations will remove the measure from suspension and continue its debate.

A member of the committee could at that point move to vote to advance SCA 6 to the full Senate. If that vote is successful, it would proceed to the CA Senate floor with a recommendation from Appropriations to enact it.

There are other possibilities, however. Members of the committee or the proposal’s sponsors could alter the proposal’s language or a vote to advance it could fail.

If that were to happen, it would please several individuals and groups who testified in opposition to the measure Tuesday. Almost all of them represented CA’s Native American tribes that offer gaming.

Further adversarial testimony from tribal leaders

In addition to 15 people who voiced opposition to SCA 6 over the telephone during Tuesday’s hearing, there were two invited speakers who shared their opinions. Both represented tribal gaming interests.

The first to speak was Edwin Romero, chairman of the Barona Group of Capitan Grande Band of Mission Indians. That group operates a casino in Lakeside, California.

Romero touted the financial benefits of gaming for the group he represents and the state at large. He also downplayed the financial benefit of the framework for legal sports betting that SCA 6 proposes.

From there, Romero’s comments got interesting. He insisted that “an overwhelming majority of voters reject online wagering” and that whether to offer sports betting in CA is “a decision only to be made by tribal leaders.” Tribes have conducted polling that shows it is as not as popular as generally assumed.

James Siva, the chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, followed up Romero’s testimony with his own. Siva repeated Romero’s talking point of debating the fiscal benefit of sports betting in SCA 6.

Siva also brought up the main reason why tribal casinos oppose SCA 6. That really doesn’t have much to do with the question of legal sports betting.

Tribes may hold up changes in sports betting laws

For tribal casino operators, the real non-starter in SCA 6 is the language that makes player-banked games at CA cardrooms expressly legal. CA tribal casinos have long held that those offerings of table games are illegal, even taking the state to court over the matter.

As long as SCA 6 contains such language, expect tribal casinos to oppose SCA 6 at every opportunity. Without their support, it may prove difficult to get any of the tenets of SCA 6 through to an actual referendum in November.

Right now, the point of opposition is a California Senate committee. The committee will hear suspended measures on June 18, so we may learn the fate of SCA 6 then.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a lead writer for PlayUSA and the manager of BetHer. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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