Sports betting initiative qualifies for 2022 ballot in California

An initiative to legalize sports betting qualified for the ballot in California. Voters will decide the issue on November 8, 2022. The ballot initiative would amend the state constitution and state statutes to legalize sports betting at American Indian gaming casinos and licensed racetracks in California. The measure would tax profits derived from sports betting at racetracks at 10% and legalize roulette and dice games, such as craps, at tribal casinos. 

The Coalition to Authorize Regulated Sports Wagering, which supports the proposal, launched in November 2019. It received a signature deadline extension due to the coronavirus pandemic and related regulations. On December 14, 2020, the campaign filed 1,427,373 signatures. On May 26, 2021, the office of Secretary of State Shirley Weber announced that the initiative qualified for the ballot after counties found 1,061,282 signatures to be valid. The minimum number required was 997,139.

Several American Indian tribes support the Coalition to Authorize Regulated Sports Wagering, including the top-five donors to the campaign—the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, and Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. The campaign had raised $11.57 million through March 31, 2021. Mark Macarro, chairman of Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, stated, “Californians should have the choice to participate in sports wagering at highly regulated, safe and experienced gaming locations. We are very proud to see tribes from across California come together for this effort, which represents an incremental but important step toward giving Californians the freedom to participate in this new activity in a responsible manner.”

Opponents launched the No on the Gambling Power Grab PAC, which terminated in late 2020. The PAC raised $1.09 million. Kyle Kirkland, president of the California Gaming Association, said, “This initiative does nothing to advance sports wagering, and instead expands the tribal casinos’ tax-free monopoly on gaming and rewards those operators for prioritizing their own wealth over public health and safety.”

As of May 2021, California was one of 21 states that had not legalized sports betting; 29 states and D.C. had legalized or passed laws legalizing sports betting. In California, a constitutional amendment is required to legalize sports betting because the state constitution defines what types of gambling are permitted in the state. Since 2018, four states have legalized sports betting through ballot measures. The ballot measures received approval from between 51.4% of voters in Colorado and 67.7% in Maryland. 

The sports betting ballot initiative joins two other citizen-initiated measures on the 2022 general election ballot in California. An initiative to increase the cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits and a veto referendum to overturn the ban on flavored tobacco sales have also qualified for the ballot. Signatures need to be verified for California 2022 ballot initiatives 131 days before the general election, which is June 30, 2022.

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