Sports betting in California heads to the ballot

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In summary

Next year California voters could see up to four competing voting measures to legalize gambling at sporting events with countless billions of dollars at stake.

Memo to California voters: Prepare to be confused, as you could face four competing voting measures next year to legalize sports betting.

Indian tribes who now have a monopoly on casino games in California, major online sports betting companies, racetracks and local poker parlors are vying for control of what could amount to countless billions of dollars in bets on sporting events.

Following a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized sports betting, a number of other states have accepted it, and major professional sports leagues, which have condemned sports betting for decades. decades, have entered into agreements with major online betting operations.

However, years of efforts within the California legislature to fashion a system acceptable to all stakeholders have failed. The legislative deadlock meant – as is often the case in California – a shift to the alternative arena of voting measures.

Major casino-owning tribes struck first with a measure that would extend their monopoly on gambling to sports betting, qualifying them for the 2022 ballot.

In reaction, three other initiatives are in preparation, each of which would benefit in one way or another to its sponsor, but it is not certain that all will go to the poll. Although the election is a year away, the timeline for qualifying measures is quite advanced and sponsors will have to hurry to get it done – which means spending millions of dollars on professional signature-gathering campaigns.

The tribal measure already inscribed for the ballot would require sports bets to be placed either in existing casinos or in places owned by tribes. It would also allow sports betting on major racetracks – an obvious ploy to mitigate potential opposition – but would not allow online betting on sporting events.

The measure, if passed, would block DraftKings and FanDuel, the two major online betting companies that aspire to operate in California. But that also includes a sneaky legal attack on local poker rooms, which have long feuded with casino tribes, and card rooms have fought back with a measure that would allow them to accept sports betting.

Very quickly, DraftKings and FanDuel pledged millions of dollars for a third measure that would allow them to operate in California and garnered the support of some major city mayors by promising that their proposal would provide money to fight the roaming.

Finally, three casino-owning tribes, two of which supported the original tribal measure, are proposing a fourth measure that would allow online betting controlled by the tribes. This is a hedge against the DraftKings-FanDuel measure, as it assumes that if they had a choice between betting online or going to a casino to place a bet, bettors would prefer the former.

Millions of dollars are already being spent by the sponsors of the four measures and they have started hostilities with dueling PR campaigns ahead of what promises to be a tsunami of TV and online advertising to persuade voters to choose the one rather than the others. .

It wouldn’t surprise anyone if hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on campaigns next year, as the millions would be lint compared to the billions of dollars in bets that would pass through the hands of all interests who can claim legal authority. .

That said, it is also possible that the campaigns will be bypassed by a political deal. Those who sponsor electoral measures can withdraw them from the ballot if their demands are met by law.

Given the years of legislative deadlock on the issue, it’s hard to see competing interests agreeing to share the pie, but it’s not an impossible resolution.


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