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Legal Sports Betting In California

Hasan Nabulsi
California Sports Betting

Updated on July 28, 2020

Legal sports betting in California is coming, but questions remain as to when exactly that will happen and who will be in control of it once it’s available to the public.

Almost half the country has legalized sports betting so it only makes sense that the largest sports market in the U.S. would hop on the bandwagon as well. For now, CA players will have to do with fantasy sports, which is available via DraftKings.

However, complications between the state’s tribes, racetrack owners, and cardroom owners have hindered this.

Efforts to make legal sports betting in California a reality date all the way back to 2016, two years before the federal ban on the activity known as PASPA was repealed. But, the state’s tribal gaming compact has stomped out those efforts in the past.

Now, the tribes have banned together in order to put tribal casino-only sports betting on the November 2022 ballot. The state has also introduced a bill to do the same but would expand sports gambling operations past the tribes.  

Who will get the nod: The Tribes? The State? Neither?

California Sports Betting Timeline

2016 – The attempts to legalize sports betting in California began in 2016 when Democratic Assemblyman Adam Gray introduced sports gambling legislation titled CA AB 1573. This measure failed to gain any traction, let alone an informational hearing, from the starting gate with PASPA still in full effect.

2017 – Assemblyman Adam Gray came back in 2017 with ACA 18. The intent of this bill was to amend the California constitution in order to legalize sports betting. But, the CA constitution requires voter approval for an amendment during an election year. This was one of the causes that again held back legislation from seeing any progress.’

CA ACA 182018 – In June of 2018, a group known as Californians for Sports Betting filed a petition in order to get the issue on the 2020 November ballot. Their deadline was in February of 2019 and they had to collect 623,211 in order to qualify to be on the ballot. The initiative collected zero signatures and was doomed before it even began. The petition would have allowed cardrooms to have sportsbooks which falls directly against tribal interests. 

2019 – With a petition having failed in the early part of the year, Assemblyman Adam Gray came back with another sports betting bill titled ACA 16 in June of 2019. This time he had the help of Senator Bill Dodd who introduced matching legislation in the Senate through SCA 6. The bills didn’t include any specific information and were more of a place holder until 2020 would begin. 

California Senator Bill DoddIn November of 2019, a total of 18 of the state’s tribes banded together in order to file their own petition to get CA sports betting on the November 2020 ballot. The terms of their petition are less attractive for sports bettors in that the only places that sportsbooks could exist is in tribal casinos.

This means no online or mobile sportsbooks in CA would be rolled out. It also prohibits betting on collegiate teams based in California, which would be a huge blow to any potential sports gambling profits for both sides of the industry. 

The tribe would need to gain 997,139 signatures by late April of 2020  in order to put their petition on the 2020 ballot.

2020 – As of March of 2020, the California tribes were well on their way to receive more than enough signatures to qualify their petition on the ballot. Those in the state legislature are opposed to the tribe’s terms, but no action was taken on ACA 16 or SCA 6. At least one of those measures will need to pass by June with a two-thirds approval in the state legislature. 

However, the COVID-19 crisis suspended either of the two parties from moving forward with their plans. The tribes couldn’t get any signatures due to the lockdown and legislators were not voting on any bills.

This put the fate of California sports betting up in the air, but there is still hope for CA sports bettors.

The state legislature came back in session the first week of June 2020 and finally pushed SCA 6 out of the Senate Governmental Organization Committee and to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The bill was finally filled out with more concrete rules as to how the industry would work. Senator Bill Dodd sought to allow tribal casinos and racetracks to be the only places allowed to operate land-based sportsbooks in California. 

Those locations would even be able to partner with third-party online sports wagering sites like PointsBet or BetMGM to offer statewide sports betting. 

Cardrooms would be left out of the picture, but they would still be able to offer the same card games they offer now. Because of this, the tribes opposed the bill and fought against it.

CA TribesAs a matter of fact, the Tribes filed a lawsuit to the Superior Court of The State of California against the California Secretary of State Alex Padilla. The tribes sued to gain an extension on the time for them to collect signatures since the COVID-19 pandemic took their ability to do so.

SCA 6 had until June 25 to get a two-thirds vote and pass through both legislative chambers to be put on the November 2020 ballot. 

However, Senator Dodd pulled the bill out of discussion only days before the deadline. 

The tribes, on the other hand, won their right for an extension to gain the proper amount of signatures. That deadline is now set on October 12, 2020. However, even if they collect the proper amount of signatures their initiative will have to be put on the 2022 ballot.

Where Can You Bet On Sports In California?

The answer to where you will be able to bet on sports in California is still up for debate. The state’s tribes are working to ensure that any sports betting law that passes does with the tribal casinos getting exclusivity over CA sportsbooks. 

California sportsbookState legislators, however, believe that statewide online and mobile sports betting is the only means to capitalize on the California market. 

Cardrooms and racetracks in the Golden State also want a piece of the sports betting pie and have advocated that to state lawmakers in the past. However, they are willing to forgo that if they get to keep offering Vegas-style card games.

Bills in the state legislature are aiming to make tribal casinos and racetracks the places to go to bet on sports in California. But, that could change with the tribes opposing the bills.

For now, California bettors will have to make due by traveling to Nevada to bet on sports.

California Sports Betting Apps

The types of California sports betting apps to come to the state’s marketplace are still a bit unclear. The tribes don’t want sports betting apps at all unless they are being operated within their casinos. 

What could be seen as good news for sports bettors in CA is that state lawmakers have not expressed a desire to have a sole lottery run sports betting platform similar to that in Rhode Island, Montana, and Oregon. 

Each of those states has either seen a loss when it comes to sports betting revenue or have not reached their estimated potential. 

A more likely scenario for California is like every other state which features an expansive marketplace with apps such as DraftKings, FanDuel, PointsBet, and BetMGM competing for customers. Only time will tell, however, as these rules haven’t been passed into law.

Lawmakers were trying to allow CA Tribes to partner with these major online sports betting brands as written in their previous bills. 

But, negotiations for this are ongoing and only time will tell if this issue can be resolved.

California Sports Betting FAQs

Can I Bet On College Teams Based In California?

If the tribal initiative is the one that passes, then no, you would not be able to bet on college teams based in California. If ACA 16 or SCA 6 is the one to be passed then you would be able to. 

Collegiate sports betting has been a topic of contention as student-athletes are the most susceptible to bribery. However, given how large the collegiate sports betting market would be in CA, it would be hard to see a measure passed without it. 

How Much Would California Sports Betting Be Worth?

California has the largest population and most sports teams of any state in America, so naturally, it would have the biggest sports betting market. Based on numbers provided by the American Gaming Association, experts believe that Californians could stand to bet more than 18 billion dollars per year. 

Depending on how the state sets its tax rate on sports gambling revenue, California sports betting could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually. A recent study conducted by Eilers & Krejcik predicts a mature California sports betting market to contribute $503 million to the state.

Will Sports Betting Be Put On The November 2020 Ballot?

The chances of California sports betting being put on the November 2020 ballot are nill. The COVID-19 crisis has not only affected the sports world but also legislative efforts as well. 

Tribes have had to stop collecting signatures for their initiative and lawmakers had less time to amend and pass bills. Lawmakers pulled sports betting out of discussion before the legislative deadline and tribes will have to put their initiative on the 2022 November ballot instead.