Sportsbook Ballot Measure Qualifies To Go In Front of Voters In 2021 Or 2022

Written By Matthew Kredell on May 27, 2021
CA sportsbook voter referendum

California voters will see a sports betting initiative on the ballot. The only question is when.

Straggler counties submitted validity counts Wednesday, pushing the sports betting initiative submitted by a coalition of Native American tribes over the top. The ballot measure authorizes sports betting only at California’s tribal casinos and horse racetracks.

After receiving a full county-by-county check from election officials, the initiative tallied 1,061,282 valid signatures. It needed 997,139 in order to qualify.

“We are grateful to the more than one million Californians who signed petitions to authorize sports wagering in a well-regulated and responsible manner,” said Pechanga Tribal Chairman Mark Macarro, one of the proponents of the measure. “This is an important step toward giving Californians the opportunity to participate in sports wagering while also establishing safeguards and protections against underage gambling.”

The California Secretary of State announced that the initiative is now eligible for the November 2022 general election ballot.

However, all indications are that the tribal coalition is considering filing a lawsuit to get the measure on this year’s gubernatorial recall ballot.

Details of tribal sports betting initiative

If approved, the measure would do more than legalize sports betting at the brick-and-mortar facilities. For one, it also would authorize tribal casinos to offer Las Vegasstyle craps and roulette.

Here are additional key details of the initiative:

  • Authorizes sports betting at 66 tribal casinos and four horse racetracks in the state.
  • Does not allow wagering online or through mobile devices.
  • Excludes wagering on any sport or athletic event in which a California college team participates. This means no wagers on USC, UCLA, Stanford, and Cal.
  • Requests that the legislature creates consumer protections and anti-corruption measures to ensure the integrity of sport or athletic events.
  • If the measure passes, the state would need to work with tribes to add sports betting, roulette, and dice games into their compacts.
  • Includes no license fees.
  • Taxes horse racetracks at 10% of sports wagering activity.
  • As sovereign nations, tribes don’t pay taxes to the state. However, Mejia previously said that, while he can’t speak for all tribes, most intend to share the same 10% of sports betting revenue with the state as paid by racetracks.
  • Creates the California Sports Wagering Fund for revenue and allocates 15% of revenue toward problem gambling programs.
  • Amends previous state gambling law to potentially allow a person or entity to file a civil suit against the perpetrator of an alleged violation of conduct. California’s cardrooms contend this clause aims to allow tribes to file lawsuits directly against them over their method for player-banked card games.

Long and winding road for CA sports betting initiative

The CA sports betting initiative was filed Nov. 4, 2019, by the tribal chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, Barona Band of Mission Indians, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, and Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation. But it’s backed by a coalition of more than 20 leading gaming tribes.

It was well on its way to making the November 2020 general election ballot when the pandemic derailed signature-gathering efforts. Though the 2020 election deadline passed, tribes resumed signature gathering for the November 2022 ballot.

Social-distancing restrictions made signature collection more difficult. In June, the petitioners filed a lawsuit in California Superior Court asking for an extension to collect signatures. The tribes ended up getting two extensions, one to Oct. 12 and another to Dec. 12.

The tribal coalition submitted 1,427,369 signatures for review prior to the latter deadline.

Signature verification takes longer than expected

Once submitted, signatures go to the 88 counties in the state to verify that they are from registered voters. First, the counties perform check a random sampling of signatures. If this check extrapolates to 110% of the required signatures, the initiative automatically advances.

In falling between 95% and 110%, the tribal initiative needed a full check of all signatures. Counties had until April 22 to complete the verification. Los Angeles County and San Diego County sued the California Secretary of State for more time, citing pandemic-related difficulties in staffing.

The judge granted all California counties an additional 34 days to verify signatures.  That made the deadline May 26.

On May 21, Los Angeles verified 298,504 signatures. Today, San Diego, Riverside, and Sacramento submitted results to push the ballot measure over the top.

Overall, the initiative had a validity rate of 74.4% and 106% of the signatures needed to qualify.

Tribal coalition eyes recall ballot

Originally, the counties sought an additional 60 business days to check signatures. Tribal backers of the initiative requested to be added as “real parties of interest” in the case.

In its filing with the court, the tribal coalition stated that the proposed delay was a “date that would render it impossible for the initiative to be submitted to the voters in conjunction with the gubernatorial recall special election that is likely to be held later this year.”

This even though the coalition had been notified by the Secretary of State that it would not be eligible for the recall election.

At the center of the disagreement is article II, section 8, subdivision (c) of the California Constitution:

The Secretary of State shall then submit the measure at the next general election held at least 131 days after it qualifies or at any special statewide election held prior to that general election.

Adhering to that language, the Secretary of State allowed two ballot measures in California’s last gubernatorial recall election in 2003.

However, statutes issued since then contradict the constitutional language. A 2011 law wrote that citizen-initiated propositions can only make November general election ballots.

Undeterred, the tribes worked out a 34-day extension with the recall election in mind. To keep hope alive for the recall ballot, the initiative needed to be certified more than 131 days prior to the election.

By getting on the ballot a year early, the tribes avoid the possibility of any competing sports betting proposals making the 2022 general election ballot. These could come from a legislative proposal or competing initiative backed by professional sports teams.

Photo by AP / Rogelio V. Solis
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