Once Again, Efforts To Legalize Sports Betting In CA Done For The Year

Posted on June 23, 2020

Although the latest sports betting amendment proposal in the California Legislature involved months of work, its actual lifespan in the CA Senate was quite short. On Monday, Sen. Bill Dodd pulled SCA 6, a measure that, among other things, would have legalized wagering on sporting events for the state’s 40 million inhabitants.

Dodd’s move means CA voters won’t see any measures to expand or modify legal gambling in the state on their ballots this November. There are still several possible scenarios for the next midterm election.

Why did Dodd pull his sports betting amendment proposal?

One party staunchly opposed SCA 6, and that opposition proved quite effective. Operators of tribal casinos and leaders of the tribes they support banded together to make their voices heard.

One reason that CA tribal casino operators opposed SCA 6 was that it would have authorized sports betting apps to operate in the state, albeit under casinos’ licenses. There was another and more important reason for the opposition, however.

SCA 6 would also have forever settled the question of the legality of cardrooms in CA. Tribal casino operators have long maintained that cardrooms’ table-style games are illegal and infringe upon their sole right to offer such games in the state.

During the two hearings on SCA 6, representatives for casinos voiced their opposition. Tribal leaders supported that with strong messages in the media. For example, tribal lobbyist David Quintana spoke to Legal Sports Report about SCA 6’s “death” on Monday.

“It was a bad bill, written without tribal input, with virtually no time remaining on the clock — it got the finish it deserved,” Quintana said. “It started off as a sucker punch but ended up as a knockout. Hopefully, the next round will involve a true dialogue with the tribes.”

Dodd cites lack of time as reason he pulled the bill

Another crucial part of this narrative is a Thursday deadline for getting the measure on the ballot. Since this legislation would have amended the state’s constitution, it required a super-majority in both chambers of the CA legislature.

Dodd cited the lack of time as the primary reason he pulled the bill. He is still determined to get it passed in a future session, though.

“Given the deadlines for getting a measure on the November ballot and the impact of COVID-19 on the public’s ability to weigh in, we were not able to get the bill across the finish line this year,” Dodd stated. “It remains important that we lift this widespread practice out of the shadows to make it safer and to generate money for the people of California. I will continue to be engaged in the issue as we work toward 2022.”

Casino operators already have 2022 in their sights. CA tribes are gathering signatures to put their own amendment proposal on the ballot in November 2022 and have recently filed a lawsuit to give themselves more time to do so.

The best-case timeline for Californians who want to place legal wagers on sports without leaving their state now looks like sometime in 2023. There are several different scenarios for what that could look like, however.

Negotiations for 2022 sports betting could start soon

Californians may see another year without a sports betting referendum in 2022. It’s also possible that they may see competing measures on the 2022 ballot.

If Dodd can get enough support in the legislature for another incarnation of SCA 6 in time, that would be one option for CA voters in November 2022. The extra time to garner support is no guarantee, however.

Casinos have a strong lobby in the state. That could prove sufficient to block any attempt to amend the state constitution that doesn’t fit the tribes’ wish list.

At the same time, there’s the possibility of tribal leaders succeeding with their petition. That would put a potential competing amendment proposal on the same ballot.

Should that transpire, the measure that gets more “yes” votes would prevail where the two amendments differ, if voters approve both proposals. An obvious point of contention could be online wagering.

Tribal leaders want to restrict betting to their facilities to maximize their revenues. On the other hand, Dodd feels that online betting is a crucial component of a regulated market in the state.

Whether or not Californians will be able to legally bet on sports online seems to depend on negotiations between casinos and legislators right now. Ultimately, however, Californians may decide that for themselves in voting booths.

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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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