We’re 159 days from Election Day, when voters in the Golden State will be asked to decide the future of sports betting in California.
A pair of initiatives — one backed by the state’s tribes and another by the nation’s prominent mobile sportsbook operators — have already qualified for the ballot.
The two initiatives are vastly different. And if both pass, the two measures would simultaneously control California sports betting.
Brendan Bussmann, managing partner of B Global Advisors, expects the next six months to be fascinating to watch.
“I think California is becoming more and more interesting by the day,” Bussmann told BetCalifornia.com. “And I say that for a host of reasons. You now are basically down to two main camps, both of which have distinctly different views on the way the world should work.
“And as it comes back to the two initiatives, I think you're going to continually see the back and forth — there's this ad, there's that ad, or to this poll, there's that poll — and the age old saying, in politics, is that the only poll that matters is Election Day itself. But you're going to see a lot of jockeying back and forth that says, ‘This is the killer, that's a killer.’ But it all is going to come down to turnout, and the race that's run over the next five months.”
What Happens Next in California?
Two sports betting ballot initiatives cleared the roughly 1 million signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot last month, while a third ballot drive funded by the state’s card rooms fell well short.
Both the California Legalize Sports Betting on American Indian Lands Initiative and the California Solutions to Homelessness and Mental Health Support Act would legalize sports betting in the state.
The second initiative, which has received support from national sports betting apps operators like DraftKings Sportsbook and FanDuel Sportsbook, would allow mobile betting in California.
Whether one or both initiatives pass come November is a matter for voters to decide, though any result will likely be marred by potential litigation, according to Brandt Iden, who serves as the head of government affairs for Sportradar.
Iden said litigation is likely, though California’s sports betting launch should avoid the pitfalls that doomed states like Florida, which tried to pass a gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe without getting voter support first.
“So from Election Day onward, let's say one (initiative) passes, and the other one doesn't, (sports betting) would be enacted at that point in time and the rulemaking process would start,” Iden said. “Now that would not stop any sort of court action from then starting, which I agree may be the case.”
Bussmann sees a future rollout of sports betting being delayed by litigation, regardless of which initiative or initiatives pass in November.
That belief stems largely from the amount of money both sides have poured into their campaigns, with the Indian Lands initiative spending more than $12.5 million to get the question on the November ballot.
The online sports betting initiative has received hefty financial support from DraftKings and FanDuel. It would allow tribes, licensed racing associations, licensed gaming establishments and professional sports teams to offer sports betting — with a tax rate of 25% and funds going toward ending homelessness in the state.
As for the potential launch dates, Bussmann says in an ideal world with no legal hurdles California would go live in fall 2023. Iden, on the other hand, has a much more conservative timeline. He thinks voter approval of the retail-only tribal initiative would mean a launch by the 2023 NFL season. If both pass, he says a launch in late 2024 or early 2025 is more likely.
What to Know About the Tribal Sports Betting Initiative?
Both sides of the California sports betting debate believe their chosen method of wagering is the best for the state’s future.
Jacob Mejia, who serves as the director of public affairs for the Pechanga Development Corporation, cited the tribes’ continued success in winning voter support.
“I think it continues to reinforce the long-standing support that the voters have expressed for tribal gaming for more than 20 years,” Mejia told BetCalifornia.com. “Tribes have been on the ballot now almost 10 times and have won almost every one of those campaigns. So, obviously, tribes are grateful for having been entrusted by the voters to have tribal gaming on tribal lands. And the in-person sports wagering measure simply builds on that legacy.”
Mejia said the tribal sports betting initiative — which initially was aimed at the 2020 ballot before the COVID-19 pandemic scuttled their signature-gathering abilities — would prevent underage wagering and not provide a green light for endless gambling expansion in the state.
“(The tribal sports betting initiative) simply adds sports wagering and craps and roulette for tribal casinos,” Mejia added. “And there’s a deep respect the perspective tribal leaders have for the voters.
“And they had a lot of conversations with voters to understand what it is that voters were willing to support. And the voters have been pretty loud and clear. They're willing to support additional games at tribal casinos, but they are not willing to support a massive expansion of online sports betting. And that's why the thinking has always been an incremental approach to sports wagering makes the most sense.”
How the Online Sports Betting Initiative Stands Out
Nathan Click, who serves as a spokesperson for the online sports betting initiative, told BetCalifornia.com its ballot drive has shown how interested California residents are in online sports betting.
Click said the more than 1.6 million residents that signed their initiative petition show how serious the state is in joining neighbors Arizona and Nevada in offering mobile and retail sports betting.
“We're feeling good. We submitted 1.6 million signatures to county registrars across the state. They're going through the process of verifying those — we only needed about 1.1 million signatures — and where the counties that have come back are reporting that we're at a much higher validity rate than we need,” Click said. “So, we're confident we're going to be on the ballot. And we're excited about that prospect.”
Click said the online sports betting initiative’s goal of ending homelessness in the state has been a big selling point for voters they’ve talked with.
He said the online sports betting initiative is not groundbreaking, following in the footsteps of California’s neighbors that have already legalized online and retail sports betting.
“We're confident that Californians will understand our initiatives, that they'll have the facts around our initiatives,” Click said. “And what we've seen is when they're presented with what our initiative does, and the support it provides the state, they overwhelmingly support our measure.”
What Organizers Say to Californians
Both Mejia and Click have faith their camp will come out on top come November. Click said his group is more than willing to work together with tribal personnel should both measures pass.
Mejia hammered home the existing support California voters have shown the state’s tribes, while cautioning against a massive expansion of gambling in the state.
“(We’re) very confident that the voters once again will vote to support additional gaming opportunities at tribal casinos,” Mejia said.
Click pointed out that more than 20 other states have already legalized online sports betting in some form, including three of its neighbors (Arizona, Nevada, and Oregon) as proof its initiative would work.
He also said the addition of retail and online sports betting, should both initiatives pass, would clamp down on the state’s offshore betting habit, providing a safer alternative for residents.
“We’re confident in our measure, and I think it provides the best path forward for the state of California and all of the stakeholders in this state,” Click said.