California Sports Betting Bill Failure May Produce Silver Lining

California Sports Betting Bill Failure May Produce Silver Lining
Fact Checked by Jim Tomlin

Editor's note: This story updated Jan. 24, 2024.

It appears voters won’t even get a chance to place an amendment that would legalize California sports betting up for question on the November ballot. At the end of the day, that can be a good thing.

Sources told BetCalifornia.com late Monday that the businessmen who proposed a 2024 California sports betting initiative will not circulate petitions, though state officials had approved that. The proposed amendment sought to include California’s tribal nations, but the group representing most of the state’s Indian casinos rejected the measure two times and did so in an overwhelming fashion.

The California Nations Indian Gaming Association also vowed to fight the measure vehemently if it were to get on the ballot. That opposition harkened thoughts of the bitter campaign wagered two years ago by commercial sports betting operators that sought to legalize online California sports betting apps statewide. Tribal nations spent upwards of a quarter of a billion dollars to defeat that initiative, even as their proposal to legalize brick-and-mortar sportsbooks at their casinos and state-licensed racetracks also failed by a wide margin.

Tribal-backed Proposition 26 went down by a 2-to-1 margin, and commercial operators’ Proposition 27 failed to garner even 17% support in the same election. Supporters and opponents of both measures raised more than $450 million, making it the costliest campaign for ballot initiatives ever in the U.S.

But it was costly in other ways, too. Not only was California sports betting not legalized in 2022, but the size of the defeats prompted leaders from both camps to say they would not propose anything for this year’s election, mainly because voters would most likely reject it once again. There aren’t any legal California online casinos either.

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Tribal Opposition To California Sports Betting

That’s why the proposal from representatives of Eagle1 Acquisitions Corp. surprised many when it was introduced in late October. Supporters hoped they could win tribal backing, but CNIGA members have made it clear that they support legalizing sports betting on their terms – they say they wish to protect the market they have built over the decades and the economic benefits they have reaped.

CNIGA Chairman James Siva issued a statement Tuesday saying the group was "pleased" that the measure was pulled down, but he also castigated the initiative's backers for trying to imply that it had tribal support.

"Let this failure also be a warning to others that seek to dubiously enter the California gaming market," Siva said. "Using tribes for your own gain will get you nowhere.”

The tribes’ opposition wasn’t the only issue the proposed California sports betting measure faced.

Another issue was the confusing nature of the initiative itself. The Sports Wagering Regulation and Tribal Gaming Protection Act was a 42-page document that included language for multiple types of gaming compacts, “hub tribes” and a complex system regarding in-person registration.

On top of that, supporters also had the clock as an opponent. They would have needed a minimum of 874,641 signatures from registered voters to get the measure approved. To place it on the Nov. 5 ballot, state elections officials recommend submitting petitions by April 19 so counties could conduct reviews to meet election deadlines.

Three months is not a lot of time to try to get that many signatures. By comparison, the online sports betting campaign led by FanDuel, DraftKings, Bally’s, PENN Entertainment, BetMGM, Fanatics and WynnBET started collecting signatures for its 2022 measure in the fall of 2021. The commercial sportsbooks – which would offer California sportsbook promos if they entered the state – also had a $100 million campaign to promote their measure. Eagle1 was proposing a $25 million campaign.

Is There Future Hope For CA Sportsbooks?

If one good thing came from this exercise, it’s that the big commercial operators opposed them, too, giving them and the tribal gaming nations some common ground for once. Can those entities parlay that into finding a solution? We’ll see. One thing’s for sure, time will be on stakeholders’ side. 

With a focus on 2026, stakeholders have time – at least 18 months – to find a way to work together, as has happened in other states. They have time to put together a plan, and rather than spend nearly a half a billion dollars fighting each other, they can present a united front to voters.

But it still won’t be an easy task.

California, with its population of nearly 38.9 million according to worldpopulationreview.com, is the biggest market in the country. It has twice the population of New York, the current No. 1 U.S. market, and the state’s gross domestic product makes it the world’s fifth largest economy. The Golden State has 21 pro sports teams across the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, Major League Soccer, the WNBA and the National Women’s Soccer League (not even counting an MLS expansion team in San Diego that’s slated to start play in 2025). Some of those teams are among the most popular in the nation – Los Angeles Lakers odds, for instance, are a topic worth following for bettors everywhere.

Those facts make it easy to understand why there’s so much interest in legalizing sports betting there, with the various factions eyeing a statewide launch like a gold rush for the 21st century.

It’s also far different from many other states. Yes, there are numerous major professional and college teams across the state, but California isn’t necessarily as big on sports, relatively speaking, as New York, Massachusetts or Ohio. Remember, Los Angeles went 20 years without an NFL team. Oakland lost the Raiders to Las Vegas and soon will likely see the Athletics move there in a couple of years.

That’s why a united front is so important moving forward. Until that occurs, the odds are California will remain on the sidelines regarding legal sports betting. Of more immediate concern, check out San Francisco 49ers Super Bowl odds at BetCalifornia.com heading into Sunday's NFC Championship Game against the Detroit Lions.

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Author

Steve is an accomplished, award-winning reporter with more than 20 years of experience covering gaming, sports, politics and business. He has written for the Associated Press, Reuters, The Louisville Courier Journal, The Center Square and numerous other publications. Based in Louisville, Ky., Steve has covered the expansion of sports betting in the U.S. and other gaming matters.

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