How Would Legal California Sports Betting Shape Game Day Experiences?

Written By David Danzis on January 19, 2023
Merging legal sports betting with California live sports

There is a hint of unfairness that Californians cannot legally gamble on sports considering how entertaining their home state sports are.

Right now, millions of Americans can walk into a casino or open a sportsbook app on their phones and bet on games, player performances, seasonal awards and league championships.

Fans and sports bettors all over the country are also taking part in experiences that merge gambling and spectating. Arenas and stadiums in many legal betting states now have sportsbook-branded lounges or VIP areas.

Some professional venues are going a step further. FedEx Field, home to the NFL’s Washington Commanders, is opening a retail sportsbook this week.

Meanwhile, 39 million people in California are sitting on the sidelines.

But think: What would a game day look like at SoFi Stadium or Dodger Stadium if sports betting was legal in California?

California dreamin’ about legal sports betting

Truthfully, there is no easy way to answer that question.

California is a complex state with variables that most other places do not have to consider. If (or when) California sports betting is legalized, it will likely be a very different model than just about anywhere else in the country.

But, as previously mentioned, there are examples where gambling and professional sports are coming together to enhance the fan experience.

Let’s take some of the elements and imagine them in California.

Not-so-breaking news: Online sports betting is a gamechanger for fans

Mobile sports betting is, by far, the most noticeable and impactful change in professional sporting venues in the United States.

The roar of the Sunday crowd is a bit louder inside Denver’s Empower Field at Mile High when the game’s first touchdown is scored. Regardless of which team scores, gleeful gamblers who just cashed a winning ticket can be seen and heard.

Likewise, the Philadelphia 76ers fans at Wells Fargo Arena are not just cheering for Joel Embiid’s 10th rebound. They are shouting out after hitting on a double-double bet from their favorite superstar.

Barring any state regulation that prohibited mobile gambling from inside a sports venue, California could replicate these scenarios.

Not to take away anything from Sunday’s big showdown between the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys, but Levi’s Stadium would be deafening if 10,000 fans won money after Deebo Samuel scores the game’s first touchdown (+1000 at DraftKings Sportsbook).

Betting between buzzers during the game

Not many U.S. stadiums or arenas have unveiled retail sportsbooks on the premises. Only a handful of venues currently have in-house sportsbooks. That trend will likely change as more states legalize sports betting, and the relationships between the leagues and gambling operators grow.

Right now, Washington D.C. (of all places) has embraced on-site, in-venue sports betting the most. Nationals Park and Capital One Arena both feature walk-up sportsbooks, operated by BetMGM and Caesars, respectively.

Arizona is another state where professional sports and gambling have come together. Chase Field, home of the MLB’s Diamondbacks, has a Caesars-branded book. State Farm Stadium, home to this year’s Super Bowl and the NFL’s Cardinals, hosts a BetMGM sportsbook inside the venue.

The Chase Center or Petco Park could easily incorporate world-class sports betting experiences at those facilities.

My house, my rules: No sports gambling here

Not all states with legal sports gambling are keen on the idea of sportsbooks inside stadiums or arenas.

Operators and politicians found workarounds (no surprise there).

Just across the parking lot from MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey is the FanDuel Sportsbook at Meadowlands Racing. Prior to New York legalizing online sports betting in early-2021, this book was the busiest and most-profitable retail sportsbook outside Nevada.

Should California’s regulations mirror those where in-venue books are prohibited, perhaps a boutique betting parlor near Oracle Park would pop up.

Plenty of California sports betting possibilities

While these are just a handful of examples, there are several others that a California with legalized sports betting could adopt. Off-track betting parlors, sports bars, social clubs and state lotteries could all have a part to play.

California has 21 professional sports franchises, far more than any other state. The possibilities are endless for ways in which legal sports betting could enhance the fan experience.

Of course, legal sports betting has to happen first. After Props 26 and 27 were crushed on Election Day, the soonest we can expect another sports betting ballot initiative is 2024.

Photo by Sarah Schmidt /
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David Danzis

David Danzis is a lead writer and analyst for CatenaMedia's network of Play sites, appearing on PlayNJ, PlayCA and PlayOH. He is a New Jersey native and an honors graduate of Rutgers University. As a newspaper reporter for the New Jersey Herald and Press of Atlantic City, David earned statewide awards for his coverage of politics, government, education, sports, and business. After years of reporting on Atlantic City casinos, NJ online gambling and sports betting, his focus is now on emerging gaming markets. David lives in NJ with his wife and two children. When not on the beach, golf course, or snowboarding, David enjoys watching his beloved New York sports teams — Yankees, Jets, Rangers, and Knicks.

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