Judge Grants California Tribes Extension on Sports Betting Petition

  • The deadline for the petition has been pushed from July 20 to October 12
  • The tribes need 1.1 million valid signatures to get a sports betting proposal on the 2022 ballot
  • State lawmakers had their own sports betting bill, but pulled it last week
Distant view of Dodger Stadium with downtown Los Angeles in background
A judge has granted a coalition of California tribes an extension until October 12 to collect enough signatures to get their legalized sports betting proposal on the 2022 ballot. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Tribes get three more months

A California Superior Court judge in Sacramento has given a tribal coalition an extension on the deadline to accumulate signatures for a petition to get a sports betting measure on the state ballot. Judge James P. Arguelles ordered the deadline moved from July 20 to October 12.

The Coalition to Authorize Sports Wagering, comprised of more than 25 California Native American tribes, argued that they had been making excellent progress toward obtaining the required number of signatures before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. When Governor Gavin Newsom signed stay-at-home orders in March, however, the coalition’s ability to get hand-written signatures took a significant blow. The coalition sued the state on June 9 to fight for the extension.

the tribes do not have to start over from square one

The deadline for the California Sports Wagering Regulation and Unlawful Gambling Enforcement Act to make the November ballot was June 25, so that ship has sailed. The tribal coalition is now hoping to get the needed signatures by the new deadline in order to get their sports betting initiative on the 2022 ballot. The significance of Judge Arguelles’s ruling is that the tribes do not have to start over from square one.

Need over a million signatures

According to rules laid out in the California Constitution, a petition seeking a constitutional amendment requires signatures totaling at least 8% of the total votes cast for Governor in the last gubernatorial election. That means that the coalition needs to gather 997,139 signatures. But since the coalition is aiming for the 2022 election at this point, it really needs 1,096,853 names, which is 110% of the base figure.

In reality, the tribes want even more than that to be sure there is a buffer to cover inevitable invalid signatures.

From January 21 to mid-March, when the state went on lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the tribes had already garnered 971,373 signatures. They had spent $7m on the initiative and were almost there with over three months to go until the deadline for the 2020 ballot. There were still more than four months until the general July 20 due date, which is 180 days before the November election.

In his ruling on the lawsuit, Judge Arguelles agreed with the Coalition, saying: “Despite Petitioners’ diligence, the 180-day deadline coupled with Executive Branch orders responding to the COVID-19 pandemic significantly inhibits Petitioners’ ability to place their initiative on the November 2022 ballot.”

Tribes want near-monopoly on sports betting

The tribes’ proposal would legalize brick-and-mortar sports betting at tribal casinos and horse race tracks in California. Online betting would be prohibited under the plan. It would not tax tribal sportsbooks, but would levy a 10% tax on race track-based operators. The tribal proposal does not require sportsbooks to use official league data. It also includes a clause unrelated to sports betting that would allow private lawsuits against card rooms in order to enforce state law, as the tribes believe California card rooms are illegal.

tribes would have to partner with commercial operators

State lawmakers, led by Senator Bill Dodd and Representative Adam Gray, had their own sports betting bill. Theirs would make online sports betting legal and would mandate the use of official league data. It would tax sportsbooks, including tribal operations, 10-15% of gross gaming revenue by using a workaround in which tribes would have to partner with commercial operators. Those commercial operators would then be taxed. The lawmakers’ bill would also take the legal pressure off card rooms and let them continue to operate without the threat of lawsuits.

Last week, however, Senator Dodd withdrew the bill before it was to be debated in a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, citing the time crunch before November complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic.