The largest state in the nation is set to become a major battleground for sports betting companies in the year ahead.
A pair of initiatives — one backed by the state’s tribes and another by the nation’s prominent mobile sportsbook operators — are expected to be on the November ballot.
Organizers of the initiative backed by national mobile sportsbooks said Tuesday they have received the necessary signatures needed to qualify to go before voters in November. The tribal initiative had already qualified.
The two initiatives are vastly different. And if both pass, the two measures would simultaneously control California sports betting.
Brandt Iden, who serves as the head of government affairs for Sportradar, said both initiatives are unique in their structure, allowing the state to maximize its wagering revenue if both pass this fall.
“This proposal (backed by national operators) does not address retail sportsbooks and is designed to work in conjunction with the tribal proposal, which has already qualified,” Iden told BetCalifornia.com. “Therefore, if both of these measures pass, it would allow for both retail and mobile to coexist in the market.”
What Each Initiative Entails
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 mobile sports betting mainstays, like DraftKings Sportsbook and FanDuel Sportsbook, would allow mobile sports betting in California.
The initiative 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. The initial fee for a qualified gaming entity operator license would be $100 million, while a tribal operator license would be $10 million.
The Indian Lands initiative is being spearheaded by nine California tribes that have spent more than $12.5 million to get the question on the November ballot. That initiative would allow state-based tribes to offer sports betting on professional, college or amateur sporting events, except for high school sports and events featuring state colleges.
The tribal initiative would also legalize Las Vegas style gambling activities, such as roulette, dice games and craps at tribal casinos.
The tribal initiative would only permit retail sports betting, with money going toward problem gambling prevention and mental health care.
A Banner Day for Californians
Organizers of both sports betting initiatives declared Tuesday’s signature milestone a feat for the history books, allowing the more than 40 million people living in California to decide their future.
A representative from the mobile sports betting initiative told BetCalifornia.com in a statement the measure would provide a safe way to wager on sports, while providing support to Californians that need help the most.
“The California Solutions to Homelessness & Mental Health Support Act is the only ballot measure that will guarantee hundreds of millions of dollars each year to fight homelessness and fund mental health and addiction treatment in California,” the statement reads. “The initiative achieves this by licensing, tightly regulating, and taxing online sports betting conducted in partnership with California’s Tribes — following nearly half the country in creating a safe and responsible online sports betting marketplace. The initiative strictly limits betting to individuals aged 21 and over and blocks minors from using legal sports betting platforms by utilizing state-of-the-art identity verification technology.”
Meanwhile, the state’s tribal leaders decried the online sports betting measure as a dangerous future for the state. More than 20 other states have already legalized similar forms of mobile wagering, including Arizona and Nevada.
“This November ballot has the potential to greatly impact the progress California tribes have made toward self-sufficiency in the last two decades. Time and again, California voters have stood with Indian tribes to support gaming on tribal lands while rejecting initiatives that would hurt tribes,” said Beth Glasco, Vice-Chairwoman at Barona Band of Mission Indians, in the press release. “We’re confident that the voters will once again stand with us in allowing sports wagering on tribal lands, and against a massive expansion of online and mobile gambling controlled by out-of-state gambling corporations.”
What Are the Odds Either Initiative Passes?
Whether either sports betting ballot initiative passes in November remains to be seen, though there certainly appears to be support for legalizing sports betting in California.
A Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies survey in late February found 45% of respondents were initially inclined to vote yes on either sports betting initiative, versus 33% who said they wouldn’t.
The same poll found a large portion of Californians are undecided on sports betting’s place in the state, with 22% of respondents saying they did not have an opinion.
Mark DiCamillo, the director of Berkeley IGS Poll, said his department’s survey speaks to how apathetic the public is to sports betting.
“What we found was that support is kind of lukewarm,” DiCamillo told BetCalifornia.com in March. “This is still in the very early stages. And as I understand it, there may be competing initiatives on the California ballot, and huge amounts of money being spent on the campaign. So, this will get much greater visibility as we get closer to November.”
One thing that surprised DiCamillo about the IGS survey results was the lack of partisan difference when it came to approval of sports betting in California, with a greater indicator of support resting in a respondent’s feelings about sports at large.
The IGS poll found respondents that expressed a lot of interest in professional sports supported sports betting by almost a three-to-one margin (63% to 22%), while 33% of respondents who identified as being without interest in sports favored the amendment.
“I would say about half of the state is not a sports fan, that they're saying they only follow professional sports a little or not at all. And those people are more resistant to the initiative,” DiCamillo said. “So that's where the challenge is going to be for the (sports betting) industry. As they look at this constitutional amendment on the ballot, they're going to have to convince those who don't typically follow professional sports that this is a good idea, and good public policy.”
A Golden Opportunity for Operators
One thing that appears clear from the nation’s largest operators, such as Caesars Sportsbook, is the Golden State presents an unmatched opportunity.
Caesars Entertainment Chief Executive Officer Tom Reeg said as much during the company’s Tuesday earnings call, where he described California as a state where the company would excel.
The Emperor is uniquely positioned among the nation’s leading operators in how many retail deals it has with tribal casinos, Reeg said, allowing them to thrive, regardless of which proposition passes come November.
“California, obviously between our Indian partnerships and our Vegas assets, we have an enormous California database,” Reeg said. “We would expect to be an aggressive competitor for business if and when that state launches. There are things that we learned in New York in terms of how we would tailor an offer and what we would shoot for but we would expect to be among the leaders in California like we are in most of the states where we operate.”
With 188 days remaining until Election Day, all eyes in California are squarely fixed on the race between the state’s pair of sports betting initiatives. If sports betting passes, it could also eventually open up the possibility of California online casinos down the line.