Tribal Initiative Nears 2022 Ballot, Opening Door For California Sports Betting

Posted on December 11, 2020

At long last, California Native American tribes believe they have enough signatures to put their sports betting initiative in front of voters.

The tribes submitted more than 1.4 million signatures to counties around the state for their sports betting initiative.

“That more than 1.4 million Californians signed this petition is a reflection of the strong support to allow sports wagering in this responsible manner,” said Jacob Mejia, spokesman for the coalition backing the initiative. “This measure will regulate sports wagering and generate new revenues for public safety, mental health programs, and more while giving Californians the opportunity to legally participate in this activity.”

The coalition of Native American tribes filed the petition in November 2019 with the expectation of making the 2020 ballot. Now, if the signatures check out, it would appear in the November 2022 election.

The proposed ballot measure would authorize sports betting on-site only at tribal casinos and horse racing tracks. It also added craps and roulette to the games tribal casinos may offer.

Long road for CA tribal sports betting initiative

The tribes began circulating the sports betting petition in late January. By early March, they had more than 600,000 signatures.

The initiative seemed well on its way to making the 2020 ballot before the coronavirus pandemic hit, derailing all signature gathering efforts in California.

Although the April 21 deadline for signatures to make the November election had passed, the tribes began circulating the petition again in May. But because of coronavirus restrictions, signatures — which need to be collected in person — came in at a much slower rate.

In June, the petitioners filed a lawsuit in California Superior Court asking for an extension to collect signatures for the 2022 ballot. This way, they wouldn’t lose the money spent getting the signatures and have to start the process over.

The tribes ended up getting two extensions, one to Oct. 12 and another to Dec. 12.

“It was a challenge because of COVID conditions, but we continued to make steady progress and now we’re at a place where we feel confident enough in the number of signatures we have to submit these,” Mejia said.

What’s next for tribal sports betting initiative

Now local officials will conduct a random sampling of the submitted signatures. If the random sample shows more than 110% of the required number of signatures, the initiative qualifies for the ballot. If the sample shows fewer than 95% of the required signatures, the initiative fails. When between 95% and 110%, officials check each signature.

Mejia said the petitioners originally were targeting 1.6 million signatures because there wouldn’t be time prior to the 2020 election to do a full count if the signatures failed a random sample. Going to a full count takes an added 60 days, which now isn’t a problem prior to the next election.

He added that the petitioners don’t expect to hear word back on certification until early March. The governor issued an executive order providing election officials more time to count and verify signatures due to the coronavirus.

If enough signatures are found valid, the tribal sports betting initiative will be set for the November 2022 ballot. However, a special election could get the initiative in front of voters in 2021.

Qualifying to make the ballot as a constitutional amendment requires 997,139 valid signatures from registered voters in CA.

“That’s almost half a million more than required for a constitutional amendment, which gives us a good cushion,” Mejia said. “We’re confident in the validity rates that, when the count is done, we’ll be good.”

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Matthew Kredell

Matthew has covered efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling since 2007. His reporting on the legalization of sports betting began in 2010 with an article for Playboy Magazine on how the NFL was pushing US money overseas by fighting the expansion of regulated sports betting. A USC journalism alum, Matt started his career as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News and has written on a variety of topics for Playboy, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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