California Voters to Choose Between Two Sports Betting Plans

  • One of the two bills calls for widespread legal online sports betting
  • The other calls for sports betting to be limited to racetracks and tribal facilities
  • Card rooms are up in arms over proposed rule changes that could force mass shutdowns
California sunset
Depending on the outcome of a hearing in the California legislature on January 8, voters may have to decide between two different sports betting proposals. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Support required before vote

It has been reported that voters in California will be able to pick which of the two seperate sports betting plans they support in the November 2020 ballot.

One of the bills proposes online sports betting being allowed. The other bill, which has received plenty of support from Native American tribes in the state, proposes sports betting to be limited to tribal casinos and racetracks.

A hearing has been scheduled for January 8 to discuss the legalization of sports betting in California. This hearing will be held by Assemblyman Adam Gray and Senator Bill Dodd.

two-thirds of both the Assembly and the Senate must approve the proposal being added to the ballot

Dodd has revealed plans for this hearing, stating: “I look forward to hearing from all stakeholders at this key hearing as we analyze and develop the best approach. The Legislature’s job is to stand up for the public interest and ensure California adopts the best possible model.”

In order to secure a spot on the November 2020 ballot, at least two-thirds of both the Assembly and the Senate must approve the proposal being added to the ballot. The reason that the issue of legalizing sports betting needs to go to a public vote for passage is because this move will require a state constitutional amendment.

Political battle in California

Many of the tribes that operate gambling facilities in California hold significant political influence. More than a dozen tribes were in favor of allowing sports betting in the state, but only at their own facilities and the state’s five racetracks. 

Big changes proposed

There could be even further changes to the gambling landscape in California by the end of 2020. Changes have been proposed for rules concerning ‘player-banked’ games at card rooms in the state. A public workshop on the issue was held by the Bureau of Gambling Control (BGC) on this issue on Wednesday. 

As per the state’s gaming compacts with the tribes, these tribal casinos have exclusive rights to offer house-banked card games. These are games like baccarat and blackjack. These compacts mean that card rooms are free to offer poker, as there is no house banking for this game.

However, many card rooms have been offering the likes of blackjack through a loophole. Once the players act as the bank, the card rooms can legally offer these games.

If these new rule changes come into effect, Kyle Kirkland, president of the California Gaming Association, believes that the majority of card room operators will have to likely shut their doors. He believes this would happen due to the bulk of their revenue being generated from games like blackjack. 

the majority of card room operators will have to likely shut their doors

Kirkland went on to say that the CGA would plan to legally challenge such changes if they were approved in their current form.

Speaking about the tribe’s sports betting push, he compared the issue to being like a Trojan horse. He said: “The tribes have been actively and purposefully looking to push the card rooms out of business. This is an ongoing effort by tribes to get police powers over card rooms and gaming in California.”

Likelihood of legalization

Card rooms in the state are clearly in favor of allowing mobile sports betting.

They favor this option due to the results similar initiatives have had in other states, most notably in New Jersey, as well as having an open market for sports betting. The card rooms also want to prevent the tribes from getting a stranglehold on the betting sector. 

Kirkland believes that tribal opposition will likely prevent mobile sports betting from receiving legislature approval for the moment. Instead, the card rooms may look to put a stop to the tribal sports betting proposal. 

Potential impact

With the sports betting market booming around the country, there are many stakeholders in California watching with envy. Sports betting would likely be very popular in California if legalized. The state has the highest population in the country with around 40 million inhabitants.