CA Tribal Leaders Worry Too Many Options Delays Sports Betting

  • There are three competing sports betting bills in California on the 2022 ballot.
  • Tribal gaming advocates see potential problems if too many are around at the same time.
  • The only time a tribal gaming initiative failed since 1998 was when there were multiple gaming initiatives on the ballot.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The three competing proposals for California sports betting have added confusion to what was a simple attempt at regulation.

“Three’s a crowd for anybody that wants to see sports wagering legalized in California in 2022,” said Jacob Mejia, VP of public and external affairs for the Pechanga Development Corp.

Mejia, speaking at the Global Gaming Expo, noted that the only time since 1998 that a tribal gaming measure did not pass was in 2004, when there was a competing measure backed by commercial casinos. The 2022 California ballot will contain not only the tribal and commercial proposals for regulated sports betting in California, but also a proposal for California’s card rooms to get in on the online gambling action.

Sports betting is a hot ticket, and it seems as though every gambling industry is angling for a piece of the pie - but they could end up with too many hands in the cookie jar.

COVID-19 Caused Delays In Signature Gathering

This situation could have been avoided entirely if the tribal proposal made it on the 2020 ballot instead of the 2022 one. The petition drive first circulated in 2020, but California’s quick response to the COVID-19 pandemic - specifically, issuing a shelter-in-place regulation - prevented the gathering of signatures.

If that petition drive had reached one million signatures during the allotted timeframe, the tribal gaming proposal for sports betting would have been on the 2020 ballot. Instead, the signatures were only collected by the time the 2022 ballot was accepting nominations.

James Siva, California Nations Indian Gaming Association chairman, expressed regret that the ballot measure was unable to fire in 2020.

“I think if this initiative had been able to go in 2020, we’d be having a different conversation now,” Siva said.

What Are The Competing California Sports Betting Measures?

The commercial casinos are backing a bill circulated by a group called Californians for Solutions to Homelessness and Mental Health Support. This bill puts the focus on what revenue from sports betting could be doing for the state, instead of focusing on legalizing sports betting.

Make no mistake, however - this is a political calculation. This bill is also about legalizing sports betting, but the focus on helping the homeless makes the benefits of sports betting legalization more clear to the average voter.

The proposal backed by the card rooms is one that expands the franchise of sports betting, offering it up to race tracks, sports teams and card rooms as well as commercial and tribal casinos. For the tribal nations, this is something of a goldilocks situation. The card-room-backed proposal expands the franchise too much, including to actors that the tribes view as shady.

The commercial-casino-backed bill circulated by Californians for Solutions to Homelessness and Mental Health Support requires the tribal nations to partner with online casinos, which they view as an affront to their sovereignty.

With three potential California online sports betting bills on the table in 2022, this could be a situation that results in a rising tide carrying all boats, or it could be a situation that results in no sports betting bills being passed at all.