California Sports Betting Appears On Hold Until 2022

California Sports Betting Appears On Hold Until 2022
© USA Today

The shutdown of public interaction in California due to coronavirus could upend a bid by the state’s tribal casino-owners to launch an initiative that would land them the right to offer sports betting in the nation’s most-populous state.

Shelter-in-place orders from Gov. Gavin Newsom to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 have understandably curtailed the tribes’ efforts to garner the 997,139 signatures necessary to place their proposed constitutional amendment before voters in November. According to companies that actually perform the interpersonal act of soliciting signatures in public places, about 10% more are actually needed to account to duplicates and other discrepancies.

The 18 tribes promoting the measure reportedly had secured about 600,000 signatures by early March and appeared on course to meet an April 21 county deadline before the pandemic began walling Americans into their homes two weeks ago. California has 33 reported COVID-19 deaths as of Monday.

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“We are at nearly one million signatures and were on a trajectory to reach our goal well ahead of the deadline before the unprecedented orders around COVID-19,” Jacob Mejia, a spokesperson for the tribal campaign told the San Francisco Chronicle in a March 22 story. “The health and well-being of Californians is foremost. Thus, paid signature-gathering efforts have paused for the time being.”

A failure to make the April deadline would push the acquisition of sports betting as a ballot measure to 2022, as the state only addresses them in even-numbered years per state law. The measure would still require approval of two-thirds of the state legislature to be placed on the ballot.

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Time, Distance Could Sink Imperfect Proposal

The tribes’ bid had been controversial from the start. The retail-only proposal would include racetracks, but shut out card room-operators who form a key 150-year-old stake-holding bloc in the state. There are currently 72 cardrooms – currently limited to non-house-banked games – of various sizes in the California, according to the California Gaming Association.

Passage would also provide a monopoly to a group of casinos not centrally located near population centers and with no mobile component to stoke the kind of commerce seen in places like New Jersey, where online and mobile generally constitute around 85% of the handle. The California tribes would also gain the right to offer dice games and roulette.

Mejia often sites a survey claiming that most Californians do not support mobile betting, but it’s unclear how many would support the potentially lucrative industry at all in its proposed state.

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California the Big Prize in Sports Betting

Various estimates have placed the potential value of a California sports betting market at around $2.5 billion in annual revenue, but that seems fanciful without a mobile option, even in a state of 39 million. With the exception of in Michigan and, purportedly in Florida, tribes have generally not supported mobile options out of concern of cannibalization of retail properties.

The California proposal also would not allow betting on in-state college teams, which would be certain to dent revenue.

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