California’s tribal casinos could be allowed to accept sports wagers if Californians pass a ballot measure legalizing some forms of gambling on professional and out-of-state college sports next November.
(CN) — Californians will vote on whether sports betting should be legalized as a proposition to amend the state Constitution to allow betting at tribal casinos and horse-racing tracks has qualified for the November 2022 ballot.
The measure to legalize, regulate and tax sports betting is backed by a coalition of 18 tribes, who spent $11.57 million to collect 1.4 million signatures by the October 2020 deadline. The amendment is billed as a means of curtailing black market illegal gambling operations “to allow adults the choice to participate in this activity with strong consumer protections.”
Top donors include the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians in Riverside, the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation near Sacramento and the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria in Sonoma County. Pechanga and Yocha gave $2 million each, and Graton gave $1.7 million.
“We are grateful to the more than one million Californians who signed petitions to authorize sports wagering in a well-regulated and responsible manner,” Pechanga chairman Mark Macarro said in a statement. “This is an important step toward giving Californians the opportunity to participate in sports wagering while also establishing safeguards and protections against underage gambling.”
Graton did not respond to a request for comment.
The amendment will levy a 10% tax on gross gaming revenues from sports betting at racetracks to fund gambling prevention and mental health programs, the initiative says.
It will permit sports wagering only in-person by those aged 21 and older at tribal casinos and state-licensed racetracks. Wagering on dog-racing will still be illegal, and the measure prohibits betting on high school and California college sports, though wagers on popular events like the NCAA tournament and all other professional, out-of-state college or amateur sporting events will be permitted.
It’s been three years since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the federal ban on sports betting by a 7-2 vote, clearing a pathway for states to start legalizing the practice. So far, 21 states and the District of Columbia have active sports betting, according to the American Gaming Association. Sports betting is legalized, but not yet operational, in seven additional states.
Though a bit behind the ball, legalized sports wagering could be a huge revenue source for the Golden State. The Legislative Analysts’ Office said it’s hard to estimate how much money it could generate, but predicted that it “could reach the tens of millions of dollars annually.”
The measure also faces fierce opposition from non-tribal casinos shut out of the lucrative market. Dozens have banded together to form a campaign committee called “No on the Gambling Power Grab,” raising roughly $1 million last year with top contributions of $155,000 each from Bicycle Casino in Bell Gardens, Hollywood Park Casino, Parkwest Casinos, and Hawaiian Gardens Casino.
In a statement, California Gaming Association President Kyle Kirkland criticized the initiative as an expansion of the sponsoring tribes’ “untaxed monopoly on gaming” in California.
“The same tribal casino operators who kept casinos, restaurants and bars open while 62,000 Californians lost their lives and other California businesses suffered are behind the so-called ‘sports betting initiative,”’ Kirkland said. “This initiative will not legalize sports wagering in California. Instead, it expands the tribal casino operators’ untaxed monopoly on gaming without benefit to Californians and prioritizes tribal casino operators’ wealth over the needs of California communities and public health.”