November‘s ballot battle for California sports betting is taking shape.
What started as the possibility of a battle royale between four competing initiatives has narrowed to two sports wagering measures likely to make the 2022 election ballot:
- One backed by Native American tribes to add in-person sports wagering at tribal casinos and horse racetracks.
- One backed by sportsbook operators to offer mobile sports wagering through partnerships with Indian tribes.
A third initiative officially dropped out Monday. The measure backed by a few card-room interests and the cities in which they are located did not submit the required signatures by the circulation deadline.
The fourth initiative, a mobile option backed by three tribes led by San Manuel, is currently collecting signatures and has not officially ruled out pivoting to 2022, but is focusing on making the 2024 ballot.
Another option was for the legislature to put a referendum on the ballot. However, a spokesman for state Sen. Bill Dodd told PlayCA that he will not pursue sports betting legislation this year.
The initiatives will be a topic Wednesday at the National Indian Gaming Association conference in Southern California.
Comparing the likely California sports betting ballot initiatives
Here are some important details about each California sports betting measure expected to make the November ballot.
Tribal in-person sports betting initiative
- Filed by the chairman of the Pechanga, Barona, Agua Caliente and Yocha Dehe tribes.
- Supported by 23 California tribes and the California Nations Indian Gaming Commission (CNIGA).
- Originally intended for the 2020 election but the pandemic delayed signature gathering.
- Already eligible for the 2022 ballot. In May of 2021, the California Secretary of State certified that the tallied 1,061,282 valid signatures. It needed 997,139 in order to qualify.
- In addition to sports betting, allows tribal casinos to offer craps and roulette.
- Taxes horse racetracks at 10% of sports wagering activity. Tribes could work out a revenue-sharing agreement for 10% when amending compacts with the state. Includes no licensing fees.
- Allocates 15% of revenue toward problem gambling programs.
- Includes language opening up the possibility for tribes to directly sue card rooms over alleged violations of California gaming laws.
- Faces a legal challenge from card rooms based on the single-subject rule for initiatives. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge set a hearing for the case on June 14. But first, motions to strike the complaint will be heard April 26.
Sportsbook operator initiative
- Backed by DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM, Bally’s Interactive, Fanatics, Penn National Gaming and WynnBET.
- Has until May 3 to collect the needed 997,139 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot.
- All online sportsbooks must partner with a federally recognized Indian tribe.
- Tribes can develop their own online platform under the name of the tribe or tribal casino for a $10 million initial fee. It’s renewable every five years for $1 million.
- A $100 million initial license fee for mobile sports betting operators, renewable every five years for $10 million.
- A 10% tax rate on gross gaming revenue paid by the operator, or a tribe that develops its own platform.
- 85% of sports betting tax revenue goes toward homelessness and mental health support programs.
- 15% of mobile sports betting revenue goes toward economic development and assistance to tribal nations that don’t participate in sports wagering.
- Designed to be complementary to the in-person tribal initiative, but California tribes don’t see it that way.
Sports wagering ballot battle already underway
Although the operators have yet to qualify, all signs indicate that’s a foregone conclusion.
Sources indicate that the campaign will soon be submitting signatures. And two tribal opposition campaigns operate as if it has already been deemed eligible.
The Coalition for Safe, Responsible Gaming, the campaign for the in-person tribal initiative, announced this week a broad coalition of opponents to what it calls the corporate online gambling proposition. These include a couple of housing/homelessness advocates, 19 social justice or faith-based organizations and 10 chambers of commerce.
Meanwhile, the campaign to Protect Tribal Sovereignty & Safe Gaming, backed by the same tribes who proposed the tribal online measure, released new polling data this week. Conducted this month by the Mellman Group, the poll tests the title and summary language of the operator initiative.
The poll shows 41% of the 900 California voters surveyed would vote no on the operator initiative compared to 40% yes. That’s a five-point increase in no votes since the group’s last poll a month ago.
“The more voters hear about the out-of-state corporation measure the more its position deteriorates with the electorate,” Mark Mellman said. “A plurality of voters are now reacting negatively to the measure’s title and summary.”
The Coalition for Safe, Responsible Gaming contends that the numbers for the mobile wagering initiative are even bleaker. It released a poll Tuesday conducted by FM3 indicating that 53% of voters surveyed oppose the measure based on title and summary, with 36% in favor.
Card rooms pivot away from initiative
Filed in August, the card-room initiative was the second sports wagering proposal for the 2022 ballot.
The petitioners actually were three elected local officials who are all board members of the California Cities Gaming Authority. Each member has a card room in their district.
But the money came from two card-room owners and the biggest operator of third-party player-dealer card games in the state.
This was the most inclusive and all-encompassing sports wagering proposal made in California. It authorized retail and mobile sports betting card rooms, tribes, racetracks and professional sports teams. It was the only California proposal to provide direct participation to professional sports teams, which has become a trend in states over the past year.
But early indications were that the card-room measure was more of a placeholder as an alternative to the tribal measure. Once the operators filed their initiative to provide that alternative, sources say the card-room backers felt their money was better spent on the opposition campaign.
The Taxpayers Against Special Interest Monopolies sponsored by card rooms, including the Park West Casinos that backed the initiative, this week announced a large coalition of local officials and organizations that oppose the in-person tribal measure. These include the mayor of Fresno and the California Contract Cities Association, representing 74 cities.
The card-room initiative never began collecting signatures. A spokesman for the campaign declined to comment on its expiration.