California tribes collect more than 1.4 million signatures to put sports betting on the ballot Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports · December 15, 2020 at 7:30 am California voters could decide on sports betting legalization in 2022, after tribal leaders submitted a ballot initiative with more than 1.4 million signatures to government officials. But with the state facing a budget deficit of some $54 billion due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a gaming analyst suggested the issue could land in front of voters a year earlier. California tribal gaming leaders suggested last week on Twitter that they had more than enough signatures for the ballot question that would allow Indian casinos and licensed racetracks to operate retail sportsbooks. More than 997,000 signatures were needed to qualify the referendum for the November 2022 election. Jacob Mejia, Pechanga Tribe A collation of nearly 20 California tribes from throughout the state announced plans for the ballot initiative at the end of 2019, but the pandemic stalled the signature-gathering process. A state judge extended the time deadline by 90 days over the summer. Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians Vice President of Public Affairs Jacob Mejia, who is the spokesman for the tribal coalition, confirmed that “more than 1.4 million Californians signed the petition, reflecting strong support to allow sports wagering in a responsible manner as set forth in the initiative.” Mejia said the measure “will regulate sports wagering and generate new revenues for public safety, mental health programs, and more, while giving Californians the opportunity to participate in this activity.” He added that it was “conceivable” the question could end up in front of voters in 2021. California, Texas, and Florida – the three most populous states in the U.S., according to Census Bureau data – do not offer legal sports betting to their residents. In a note to investors on Sunday, Deutsche Bank gaming analyst Carlo Santarelli estimated California could initially see more than $1.4 billion in sport betting wagers in its first year with both mobile and retail operations. He estimated the figure could nearly double by 2027. “In a retail-only market, we believe state gaming revenue forecasts would likely need to be reduced by anywhere from 30-50%, if not more,” Santarelli wrote. The tribes’ ballot question, however, contains three controversial items. It does not allow for the state’s 72 cardroom casinos to participate in the activity; mobile sports betting is not included; and wagering would be prohibited on games involving California’s colleges and universities. Santarelli said “the clear flaw in the current proposal” pertains to mobile sports betting. “We see the initiative, in its current form, as a net negative,” he said. Santarelli suggested that tribes intend to start with retail sportsbooks and eventually introduce mobile sports betting. “From our checks, it appears there is a divide amongst tribal leaders on the topic of mobile, with some wanting it now and some not wanting it at all, given the influence it could potentially have on the balance of power amongst the tribes,” Santarelli said. The state must still validate the signatures before the initiative can land in front of voters, but the signature collection sets up a potential debate between the nation’s largest tribal gaming industry and California lawmakers who have proposed their own sports wagering ballot referendum. Earlier this year, the California legislators dusted off a sports betting measure, first floated in 2018 and 2019, that the tribes opposed because it included cardroom casinos and racetracks and allowed for both retail and online sports wagering. The bill’s sponsors shelved the measure in June after being faced with the Herculean task of getting the bill through two Sacramento legislative houses in three days. Northern California State Sen. Bill Dodd, the measure’s primary sponsor, said he would bring the proposed constitutional amendment back for consideration in the 2021 legislative session. In January, California was projecting a $5.6 billion surplus, but the pandemic crushed that figure. Santarelli didn’t discount “just how much influence the tribes will have in the California sports betting process.” Currently, 19 states and Washington D.C. offer legal and regulated sports betting. Six additional states – Virginia, North Carolina, Washington, South Dakota, Louisiana, and Maryland – have legalized sports betting but still need to create a regulatory structure. California would join New Mexico, Michigan, Mississippi, and New York as states where sports betting is being offered at tribal casinos. North Carolina has just two casinos, both operated through Caesars Entertainment by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.