CA Tribal Casinos Get Petition Extension, But Will It Lead To What They Want?

Posted on July 2, 2020

California’s tribal casinos seem to be on a roll.

A CA court has granted them an extension for their sports betting amendment petition. The recent win keeps their proposal alive for now. There is still a lot to be done before CA casino operators can achieve their ultimate goal, however.

Sports betting amendment petition ruling

On Wednesday, Sacramento Superior Court Judge James Arguelles gave tribal casinos until Oct. 12 to collect the nearly 1 million signatures necessary to put their proposal on the ballot for the 2022 election. The previous deadline was July 20.

The casinos argued that they needed the extension because the COVID-19 pandemic hindered their efforts to collect signatures. CA Secretary of State Alex Padilla did not oppose the request.

If the drive is successful, CA voters will have their say on the potential amendment in just over two years. If they ratify the amendment, it would give CA tribal casinos the exclusive right to offer legal sports betting in CA.

That’s one of the reasons that success isn’t a sure thing. There are still several possible roadblocks to the tribes achieving their ultimate goal.

More delays and a potential competing measure

The most immediate concern is more struggles to gain the requisite number of signatures by the new deadline. A surge of COVID-19 cases led to Gov. Gavin Newsom closing businesses again. This could hamper the petition drive as well.

If the deadline approaches and the petition is still short of signatures, the casinos could sue for another extension. There’s no guarantee they would get it so easily, or at all, for that matter.

If Padilla does certify the petition before Oct. 12, it may not be alone. The state legislature has been working on its own amendment proposal that differs from the tribal casinos’ measure in several ways.

Although tribal casinos’ lobbying played a large role in defeating that measure this year, they may not prove so successful in advance of the 2022 election. If the legislature gets its measure on the ballot alongside the tribes’ proposal, it could effectively nullify the casinos’ efforts.

Even if voters approve the tribal referendum in that scenario, the legislature’s motion would control where the two amendments differ if it receives more “yes” votes. That could actually represent the biggest obstacle to legal sports betting in CA.

A possible spending war looming

If there are competing measures, the stakes at the ballot box will be high. They could mean the difference between whether there are sportsbooks at sports stadiums and perhaps, more importantly, online sportsbooks in CA.

Tribes oppose online wagering because they believe it would cut into their revenue. An amendment from the legislature will almost certainly include online betting, however, as it would maximize the state’s tax revenue.

For that reason, parties on both sides of the debate will spend to sway voters their way. It could become one of the biggest issues of the 2022 election in CA.

All that is just hypothetical now, however. For the next three months, the future of legal sports betting in CA is about whether tribal casinos can gather enough signatures to make the petition drive successful.

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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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