A group pushing to legalize online sports betting announced on Tuesday that they have received enough signatures to place a proposition to legalize the practice in California.
Californians for Solutions to Homelessness and Mental Health Support (CA Solutions), a group funded primarily by Casino betting groups such as BetMGM , Bally’s, and Wynn, as well as fantasy sports and sportsbook companies FanDuel and DraftKings have now garnered 1.6 million signatures. The group beat out the needed amount by roughly half a million signatures, but will need the extras as some signatures may be not counted due to being duplicates, being invalid, or other reasons.
For years, California has inched closer to legalizing sports betting. Many have been drawn to the estimated revenue that it could bring in, with some estimates suggesting as much as $3 billion in annual revenue and at least $500 million in taxes coming in for homeless and mental health programs through an online sports betting tax. Since the 2010s, numerous bills have been drawn up and voted on in the state legislature, but all fizzled out due to low support.
Online betting companies and California casinos, frustrated by the state legislature failing to approve sportsbooks despite polls showing that 59% of Californians favor online sports betting, started voter signature initiatives in 2021 to let voters decide. One constitutional Amendment proposal, in which sports betting would be legalized in casinos, along with an expansion of table games, garnered enough signatures last year and was placed on the November ballot this year. However, the Native American tribes backing the measure have said that they will spend at least $100 million to defeat the online sports betting measure by CA Solutions. While the tribes said that the other measure will take money out of California, they also want to keep betting more limited to their own casinos.
“Our concern with their measure is that it violates the historical decades-old sovereignty granted to tribes by California voters to be the operators of gaming in the state of California,” said Tribal Sovereignty and Safe Gaming spokesman Rob Stutzman.
Two sports betting initiatives on the 2022 ballot
However, support for the online proposition remains high, with many homeless and mental health advocates coming out in favor of it in recent months.
“I wish there was another way,” explained Marlene Thomas, a homeless advocacy group spokeswoman to the Globe on Wednesday. “Gambling can hurt a lot of people. And it’s extremely obvious that these companies will gladly pay the extra tax since they are still making out like bandits in this deal. But we desperately need more funding coming in. And since voters have cooled off on additional funding and lawmakers are dragging their feet on the issue, a direction injection of tax money to us would be a godsend.”
Many prominent lawmakers have also come out in support of the now-proposition, including several mayors across the state.
“Instead of leaving funding for homelessness and mental health services up to the whims of the economy, this initiative will create a stable and reliable funding source to tackle these immense challenges,” said Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg. “If passed, this initiative will help countless Californians in times of crisis.”
Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer has also fielded support for it, explaining, “We need to think both creatively and long term to address California’s homelessness crisis. This initiative helps do that by generating hundreds of millions of dollars in badly needed revenue — without raising taxes on residents. Here in Fresno, and in communities across the state who are looking for ways to house their most vulnerable residents, this ongoing revenue stream will help us craft the critical long-term solutions needed to end homelessness.”
However, besides Indian gaming companies, many others oppose online sports betting in California, largely due to how much the initiative puts revenue in favor of the companies rather than Californians. “Having betting so readily available is going to harm a lot of Californians, especially those who have gambling problems,” said Harrison Miller, a Gamblers Anonymous organizer in Southern California to the Globe on Wednesday. “This is going to harm a lot of people. And for what? A little money? Those casinos are getting billions in revenue if this passes? The state only gets a fraction of that, just enough to cover all the new homeless people this proposition will make homeless due to them being gambling addicts probably. This is a huge mistake. I mean, look who is backing that – all companies who stand to make a fortune.”
Both measures are due to be on the ballot this November.
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