Signature collection began on a California tribal online sports betting initiative last week. However, that doesn’t mean proponents will push to make the November ballot.
Rob Stutzman, a spokesman for the Californians for Tribal Sovereignty and Safe Gaming campaign said:
“While signatures are actively being gathered, no decision has been made to place the measure on the 2022 November ballot at this time. However, that option is being actively considered and discussions among the tribal nations are continuing.”
The other option for initiative backers is to qualify their measure for the 2024 election when the dust will have cleared from the 2022 ballot battle.
The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians is the main proponent for the initiative, which also includes the Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians and Wilton Rancheria.
Tribes plan to qualify online sports betting initiative
Tribes would not begin gathering signatures unless they planned to go all the way in qualifying their California sports betting initiative.
Signature collection is an expensive process. Sources tell PlayCA that petitioners for the San Manuel initiative are paying $7.50 per signature.
But there are possible scenarios where backers would pull the plug in the middle of signature gathering. These include:
- The unlikely event that a compromise between parties is reached through the legislature.
- A court decision in Florida that makes the California tribal mobile initiative seem unviable.
Easier path for qualifying for 2024 ballot
After getting a late start on signature gathering, petitioners will have a much easier path to the 2024 election.
Petitioners have 180 days from the date the California Attorney General issued the title and summary for the initiative to collect signatures. That makes the deadline approximately July 10.
However, the California Secretary of State recommends a deadline of April 26 to submit signatures for verification by a random count to qualify for the 2022 ballot. There may be some flexibility for this date into the first week of May.
Officially, the 997,139 signatures needed to make the ballot must be validated by June 30, 131 days before the election. However, proponents need to give counties enough time to verify the signatures.
If proponents miss the deadline to submit signatures for the 2022 ballot but still submit them before the 180 days expire, they can still qualify for the next general election in 2024.
Why 2024 might be better for an online tribal initiative
There already is a tribal sports betting initiative qualified for the ballot. Backed by a large tribal coalition led by Pechanga, that measure limits sports betting to California tribal casinos and California horse racing venues.
Many tribes believe an incremental approach to sports betting legalization is best. Polling indicating that sports betting at tribal casinos goes over better with California voters than having sports betting available on mobile phones backs up this belief.
San Manuel, Rincon and Wilton Rancheria remain members of the coalition supporting the qualified initiative. They introduced a tribal mobile option in response to operators led by DraftKings, FanDuel and BetMGM filing an online California sports betting proposal.
The operator campaign is off to a good start in gathering signatures, surpassing 25% of the needed number on Jan. 6. It figures to join the original tribal initiative on the ballot in November.
Both measures will face substantial no campaigns leading up to the election. Card rooms already have put more than $24 million into a committee to defeat the qualified tribal initiative.
Tribes will campaign against the operator initiative. They’ve already released polling highlighting its vulnerabilities. Operators tried to present themselves as friendly to the qualified tribal initiative, but that doesn’t figure to last as the election nears.
Two heavy no campaigns on sports betting will create a difficult environment for the San Manuel measure this year.
If no sports betting initiatives pass in 2022, the San Manuel measure will already be qualified for 2024. That puts it in a good position to garner more tribal support.
If the Pechanga initiative passes, the San Manuel measure will be ready to serve as the incremental step to mobile sports betting in 2024. When petitioners amended their initiative, they removed language putting it in conflict with the qualified tribal initiative.
Reasons 2022 could still be an option
Proponents of the tribal mobile initiative want to keep open the possibility of qualifying for November. Some scenarios that make sense for it to run this year:
- The California Supreme Court throws out the qualified tribal initiative.
- Tribes make a strategic decision to drop the qualified initiative.
Hollywood Park Casino and Parkwest Casino Cordova filed a lawsuit on Dec. 21 asking the Court to invalidate the initiative for violating the state’s one-subject rule for initiatives.
Card rooms don’t oppose the qualified tribal initiative over sports betting language.
They oppose the measure because of a provision setting up the possibility for tribes to go after card rooms directly with civil lawsuits under the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA). That is one of the multiple subjects the card rooms allege are part of the initiative in the lawsuit.
The San Manuel proposal does not include this PAGA provision, and card room sources tell PlayCA that they would not run a ‘no’ campaign on it. If tribes want to cut down on their opponents come November, they could drop the original initiative to go with the tribal online option.
A fourth tribe pulls out of the initiative
When filed, the San Manuel initiative had a fourth petitioner.
The amendment submission on Dec. 15 included a letter from the tribal chairman of Graton Rancheria withdrawing as a proponent of the measure. No reason was given for the withdrawal.