Signatures filed for ballot initiative to legalize sports betting in California

In California, the Coalition to Authorize Regulated Sports Wagering reported filing more than 1.4 million signatures for a ballot initiative to legalize sports betting at American Indian gaming casinos and licensed racetracks. The ballot initiative would also legalize roulette and dice games, such as craps, at tribal casinos. At least 997,139 of the submitted signatures need to be verified for the proposal to go before voters on November 8, 2022.

The California Constitution regulates what types of gambling are permitted in the state; therefore, a constitutional amendment is required to legalize sports betting. In 2019, Sen. Bill Dodd (D-3) introduced a related amendment in the state Legislature, but his proposal did not receive a floor vote and did not go on the ballot.

The Coalition to Authorize Regulated Sports Wagering proposed a combined citizen-initiated amendment and statute on November 4, 2019. The original signature deadline for the initiative was July 20, 2020, but a superior court extended the deadline to December 14, 2020, due to the coronavirus and related restrictions. Steve Stallings, chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, stated, “A strong, well-regulated gaming industry is of utmost importance to California’s tribal governments and the public.”

Before 2018, a federal law—the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act—prohibited states from being involved in sports betting. On May 14, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that the federal government could not require states to prohibit sports betting. As of December 2020, 24 states and D.C. had passed statewide laws to legalize sports betting. In 2020, two states—Maryland and South Dakota—voted on ballot measures to legalize sports betting. In Louisiana, parishes voted on countywide measures to legalize sports betting, with 55 of 64 parishes approving legalization. 

Californians last voted on a gambling-related issue in 2014, when voters rejected Proposition 48. Proposition 48 would have ratified gaming compacts between the state and the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians and the Wiyot Tribe.

Before 2020’s Proposition 22, the most expensive ballot measures in California were a slate of tribal gaming compact referendums, for which campaigns raised a combined $154.55 million raised ($115.06 in support, and $39.49 in opposition).

As of October 29, when the most recent contribution report was filed, the Coalition to Authorize Regulated Sports Wagering had received $11.32 million, including $2.00 million from the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, $2.00 million from the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, and $1.71 million from the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria.

Due to a coronavirus-related executive order, counties have until March 9, 2021, to report the number of qualified signatures for ballot initiatives. Without the executive order, counties would have had eight days to conduct a raw count of signatures followed by 30 days to conduct a random sample of signature validity for ballot initiatives. The executive order did not apply to veto referendums. As of December 15, signatures had been submitted for three citizen-initiated measures—two initiatives and one veto referendum; each of them would appear on the general election ballot in 2022 if enough signatures are verified. 

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