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Will We Have Sports Betting in California By End of 2021?

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Legal sports betting is back in the news in the state of California, and once again there is plenty of momentum and optimism. This has been an ongoing story since before the pandemic hit in 2020, but a resolution could be coming by the end of May. 

There is a push to get sports betting on the November 2022 ballot, which would allow for a launch at some point in 2023. In order to get a ballot initiative in front of voters, a petition that has more than 997,000 signatures is required.

A coalition of Native American tribes began the process of collecting signatures in 2020 but was forced to stop due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to that group, there have been over 1.4 million signatures collected, but now these all need to be verified.

Los Angeles and San Diego counties must verify the signatures by May 26 to get the measure on the ballot, and this process is taking much longer than anticipated. As of May 1, less than half of the signatures had been verified.

If sports betting is approved, retail sportsbooks could be set up at the horse racing tracks in California. Tribal casinos could also offer in-person betting through the gaming compacts with the state. 

One major drawback is that online betting is not included in this, and that would leave money on the table in California. There is a belief that a majority of voters would approve this ballot initiative, but getting the question on the ballot remains up in the air. 

Card Rooms Left Out

There are no commercial casinos in the state of California, but there are 66 card rooms located throughout the state. These card rooms are similar to what a normal casino looks like in other states, but there are some restrictions in place.

Cardrooms and tribal casinos have a long history of battling it out in the courts as to what is allowed at each property. This battle will also extend to sports betting if the card rooms are not given the opportunity to offer to bet on sports.

Cardroom leaders have pushed lawmakers to include them in any future sports betting legislation, but this decision might be out of the legislators’ hands. If tribal casinos are able to get enough signatures for a vote next year, it could limit the opportunities for other properties. 

Another push from cardrooms is to legalize mobile or online sports betting, something that lawmakers have also included in pieces of legislation. This is the top form of betting in the US and would bring in additional revenue for California. 

California Gaming Association President Kyle Kirkland stated that;

You can argue that putting this initiative on the ballot forces illegal activity to continue in California because 80% of the market will continue in some unlawful form. You have to have mobile gaming be a part of it, otherwise, it will still be in the shadows.

This will be a story worth watching over the next few weeks, but it could also turn into a legal battle that delays sports betting for years in California. 

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