California Cardrooms Sue Secretary of State Over Tribal Sports Wagering ‘Wish List’ Measures

  • Hollywood Park Casino and Cal-Pac Rancho Cordova filed a suit in the California Supreme Court
  • Plaintiffs argue tribes-backed sports betting initiative packs unrelated subjects into their measure
  • The initiative would permit tribes to offer roulette and dice games and carry out private litigation
  • Either of two separate tribes-backed initiatives will exclude cardrooms from the market
  • The cardrooms’ measure would allow relevant parties to offer online and in-person sports betting
Hollywood Park casino
California cardrooms including Hollywood Park Casino (pictured above) have filed a lawsuit in the California Supreme Court aimed at invalidating a tribes-backed sports betting initiative. [Image:]

Move to invalidate an initiative

Two California cardrooms have sued California Secretary of State Shirley Weber in a move to invalidate a tribes-backed sports betting initiative they allege violates the state constitution.

Chief strategy officer for Meruelo Gaming Andrew Diss took to Twitter share news of the cardrooms’ suit, filed Tuesday in the California Supreme Court:

Plaintiffs Hollywood Park Casino and Cal-Pac Rancho Cordova argue that the sports betting initiative — backed by several California tribes seeking to legalize sports betting on tribal lands — is unconstitutional because it shoe-horns too many unrelated subjects into the measure.

seeking to “exploit the popular demand for legal sports wagering”

The Sacramento Bee cites the suit as stating the initiative’s backers are seeking to “exploit the popular demand for legal sports wagering by hitching two unpopular wish-list measures to a sports-wagering Initiative.”

The two petitioners want the Supreme Court to step in before ballot printing in September.

Courses of action

The only initiative so far to make it onto the ballot is The California Sports Wagering Regulation and Unlawful Gambling Enforcement Act.

This is the initiative backed by the Agua Caliente, Barona, Pechanga, and Yocha Dehe tribes, and which the two cardrooms are contesting. The act would legalize in-person sports wagering on tribal land and at various horse tracks. What directly impacts on the cardrooms is the act would also permit tribes to offer roulette and dice games, while additionally authorizing private lawsuits to enforce other gambling laws.

Shoehorning these games and private litigation into the initiative, the plaintiffs contend, violates the state constitution’s one subject rule, which limits ballot measures to a single subject so as not to confuse and mislead the voters.

The petitioners want the Supreme Court to take one of three courses of action: command Secretary of State Shirley Weber not put the initiative before voters, request she show a valid reason why the initiative is sound and shouldn’t get nixed from the ballot, or, if the case cannot get a decision before the September ballot printing deadline, the plaintiffs want the court to instruct Weber to apply a temporary stay on the measure.

Clash of interests

Another initiative backed by four different California tribes wants to give tribes exclusive rights for operating both in-person and online sports betting.

The other tribal measure — The Age-Verified Tribal Online and In-Person Sports Wagering & Homelessness Solutions Act — is backed by the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians, the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, and Wilton Rancheria.

If either of the two separate tribal initiatives pass, cardrooms would get frozen out the market. As such, they’ve gotten together their own ballot measure. This measure advocates the expansion of urban casino gaming by allowing California cardrooms to operate Nevada-style games — an inclusive measure that also allows cardrooms, tribes, professional sports entities, racetracks, and other relevant parties to offer online and in-person sports betting.

Completing the set is a fourth initiative, backed by rival sportsbooks FanDuel and DraftKings. This measure would allow in-person betting at tribal casinos, who, in turn, could roll out online betting via partnerships with digital betting firms.

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