California Sports Betting Hearing Calls Amendment Into Question

Posted on January 21, 2020

The conventional wisdom is that legalizing wagering on sports in the Golden State requires a constitutional amendment. One voice at a recent California sports betting hearing called that wisdom into question.

Not everyone was in agreement, but this is an important decision for state lawmakers. How they proceed could delay legal wagering in California for years.

What happened at the California sports betting hearing

Attorney Daniel Wallach testified to a group of legislators. That group was led by Assemblyman Adam Gray and State Sen. Bill Dodd.

Those two members of California’s Legislature are behind an effort to pass an amendment to the state’s constitution. Wallach is of the opinion that’s avoidable, however.

Wallach said that a 1999 Supreme Court case gives California room to maneuver. That allows the Legislature to approve sports betting without amending the constitution.

An attorney representing California’s tribal casinos expressed caution to the state in proceeding down that path. While the attorney didn’t make any threats of litigation to challenge such a move by the Legislature, that wouldn’t be unheard of.

The fact is that the state’s tribal casino operators have already filed suit against California on other matters. The tribes have their own version of a constitutional amendment they want to push as well.

The race to the ballot in November for voter referendums

The tribal operators are gathering signatures for their amendment proposal. If they get the requisite number in time, state law requires the measure to be placed on the ballot this November.

While that might allow those casinos to open sportsbooks quickly if the measure passes, casinos would be the only players in that market. Card rooms, online sportsbooks and stadiums would not be part of that framework.

Dodd and Gray, on the other hand, want to form a regulatory system that is more inclusive. The question is whether they could get their amendment through the Legislature in time.

Going that route, an amendment proposal requires a two-thirds majority in each of the state’s two legislative chambers. Gov. Gavin Newsom would have to sign off as well.

To get their proposal on the ballot, that process would need to be completed later this spring. It’s possible that both amendment proposals might appear on the ballot in November.

The state would potentially have quite a problem on its hands if both measures pass, as they could contain conflicting language. That’s why in an ideal world, Dodd and Gray would get everyone on board with one proposal.

Other voices at the state’s first hearing on the matter

Some of the people included in that group were also present for the hearing. That included representatives for out-of-state casinos, professional sports leagues and vendors for sportsbooks.

The purpose of the hearing was largely informational, to get a sense of the legal sports betting market in other states. Most of the legislators’ inquiries stuck to that theme.

One topic of discussion should interest Californians, however. That was the inclusion of venues that host sporting events.

If that happens, Californians could someday see a sportsbook inside Dodger Stadium and/or the Chargers’/Rams’ stadium in Inglewood. That, however, could be a long time off- if ever.

For now, the important task seems to be getting tribal casinos on board with the Legislature. While this particular hearing didn’t overtly work toward that goal, it did provide legislators with good insights into how the industry works.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Kansas City, Mo. 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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