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Senator Bill Dodd. (Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

Two Sports Betting Initiatives Prepare For Assembly and Senate Battles in 2020

Initiatives by lawmakers and Native American tribes aim to make sports betting legal in California

By Evan Symon, December 23, 2019 9:09 pm

Two different initiatives to make sports betting legal in California will soon be facing the next steps for a November ballot vote.

The Gray and Dodd bill

Assemblyman Adam Gray. (Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

One initiative, ACA 16, proposes a widespread legalization of sports betting, similar to laws in Nevada. Written by long-time sports betting supporters Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-Merced) and Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa), the bill aims to drastically reduce the amount of illegal sports betting in California, which both authors have said leads to increased crime and would boost the amount of tax dollars. Current estimates of total revenue from legalizing sports betting are over $1 billion, with over $100 million in taxes going to the state.

“Illegal sports betting is widespread, and it’s critical that we bring it out of the shadows to make it safer and generate funds for education,” stated Senator Dodd. “I look forward to hearing from all stakeholders at this key hearing as we analyze and develop the best approach.”

Assemblyman Gray has been especially vocal on the issue of illegal gambling and safety.

“It’s time to shine a light on this multibillion-dollar industry,” said Assemblyman Gray earlier this year. “We need to crack down on illegal and unregulated online gaming and replace it with a safe and responsible option which includes safeguards against compulsive and underage gambling, money laundering and fraud.”

The tribal sports gaming amendment

While ACA 16 will allow blanket legalization, a separate plan by Native American tribes wishes to restrict sports betting to Indian casinos and racetracks. As Native American casinos are allowed exclusivity in many types of betting in California, including table games, the tribes have said that they believe that sports betting is allowed under the law as well.

As they are seeking a constitutional amendment to put sports betting in place, both bills will require voter approval. While the lawmakers bill needs approval by both the Assembly and the Senate for a ballot vote, tribes will need to gather almost 1 million voter signatures for their own ballot initiative.

Unanswered questions

“Both sides are seeing dollar signs,” explained California gaming organizer Todd Ritchie. “Sports betting is big money. The Dodd bill wants tax money from this, but it also doesn’t really want to face the stark realities of sports betting legalization. You need to confront online betting, you’ll need a lot of regulations and people enforcing those regulations. And you’ll need to impose boundaries, that is strict boundaries, on what is and isn’t a legal sports bet. At what point isn’t it legal – casinos? Tribal casinos? online? bookies at a betting place? Right now the bill just makes it legal with no plans beyond that written in stone.”

“As for the the tribal vote it will mean a lot of money for racetracks and tribes with casinos, but again, there is a lot of regulation that needs to go in it. And with tribal only, this may lead to an increase of casino applications on tribal land, or a push for more. Where do we stop that then?”

“Everyone wants this passed, but overall very few questions on implementation are being answered. Hopefully we’ll get more in the coming weeks and months, but right now it’s still pretty scant.”

A hearing on ACA 16 is scheduled January 8th at the State Capitol Building in Sacramento, where more details of what legalized sports betting in California would look like are expected.

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Evan Symon
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