California’s latest effort to legalize sports betting resembles state’s failure at Internet poker By Howard Stutz, Executive Editor, CDC Gaming Reports June 27, 2020 at 3:00 am At this rate, Utah – one of two states still without any form of regulated gaming – will have legal sports betting before California. Two competing efforts to provide voters at least one, if not two, sports betting ballot initiatives in November ended unceremoniously last week. Lawmakers pulled a constitutional change measure from consideration after being faced with the Herculean task of getting the bill through two Sacramento legislative houses by Thursday. Meanwhile, a tribal casino coalition is holding out a minuscule hope that a California judge next week will give them until the end of July to qualify their ballot initiative for this year, rather than forcing them to wait until 2022. Signature gathering – which also had a Thursday deadline – was stymied in March by the coronavirus pandemic. The tribes filed a lawsuit this month seeking more time. However, voter support for the tribes’ sports betting proposal is not a slam dunk. Now, Californians are once again on the sidelines as other states quickly legalize sports betting. There are now 18 states with legal sports betting, and four more – Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, and Washington – have approved sports betting laws and could launch later this year. Steven Senne/Associated Press California’s effort is starting to resemble the state’s failed attempts to legalize Internet poker over the last decade. “Gaming revenues are built for the long haul if you craft the right legislation and regulation for a competitive market,” gaming consultant Brendan Bussmann of Global Market Advisors said after the latest California sports betting effort dissipated. “With time on their side, interested parties should have a civil conversation on how best to do sports betting and the actual revenue it will bring to California.” That last comment borders on the impossible when it comes to the Golden State. Sports betting has suffered the same fate as any type of California gambling expansion effort. A lack of consensus among the various stakeholders – Indian casino tribes, cardroom casino owners, racetrack operators and state lawmakers – killed any chance of a compromise solution. California faces a $54 billion budget shortfall from taxes lost over the last three months due to the business shutdowns ordered by Governor Gavin Newsom in response to COVID-19. One might have thought that fact alone could fuel a compromise. Beyond that, the state’s sports betting legalization effort began long before COVID-19. Eighteen California tribes last fall announced a statewide ballot referendum for November 2020 that, if passed, would allow sports betting at Indian casinos and licensed racetracks. The tribes’ proposal didn’t include the state’s 72 cardroom casinos, prohibited wagering on games involving California’s universities and colleges, and had no provision for mobile sports betting. A few months later, lawmakers dusted off their own sports betting measure, first floated in both 2018 and 2019, that the tribes opposed because it included card room casinos and racetracks and allowed for both retail and online sports wagering. A few hearings were held on the legislative front while the tribes gathered signatures to land sports betting on the November ballot, collecting more than 950,000 before the pandemic halted the effort. An additional 150,000 signatures are needed, and the tribes are hoping for one of two outcomes from the judge – more time to gather signatures for the 2020 ballot, or more time to gather signatures for the 2022 ballot. Otherwise, the tribes have to start the process over. A week before Northern California State Sen. Bill Dodd pulled his measure from consideration, tribal leaders held a virtual press conference that left a clear understanding of their position. According to SportsHandle.com, James Siva, chairman of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, which owns the Morongo Casino Resort near Palm Springs, said, “I think it’s outrageous how (legislators) are using the pandemic to further break promises they have made to tribes and chip away at our sovereignty.” Can you say dumpster fire? In 2019, gamblers nationwide wagered more than $13 billion legally on sports, a figure that was easily on track to be crushed in 2020 until the pandemic shutdown sports and the gaming industry. Dodd said the sports betting legalization offered by his legislation would have generated up to $700 million a year in tax revenue for California. But his bill included mobile sports wagering, a sticking point with the tribes. Analysts believe the technology is an important growth factor in the nationwide expansion of sports gambling and works to deter the reliance sports bettors have on illegal offshore and unregulated online gambling sites. A year ago, at the National Indian Gaming Association conference and trade show in San Diego, Pechanga Tribe public affairs executive Jacob Mejia said mobile wagering was an issue dividing the California tribal community. Smaller tribes, he said, want to drive customers to their casinos, rather than allowing wagers to be placed via a mobile device anywhere in the state. Hopefully, two years will be enough time to hash out some type of compromise sports betting legislation. Then again, we’re talking about California. Probably not. Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.