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Assemblyman Adam Gray. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

California Inches Closer To Legalizing Sports Betting

Bill still faces challenges in the state legislature, from native tribes, and, ultimately, from voters

By Evan Symon, November 13, 2019 3:21 pm

The movement to legalize sports betting in California faces a busy second half of November as a hearing and tribal input threaten the long opposed measure.

Assembly Constitution Amendment 16, authored by Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa) and Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-Merced), would legalize sports betting throughout the state. Both Senator Dodd and Assemblyman Gray have been long time supporters of the legalization, as well as the tax revenue it would bring in. Estimates of total revenue are over $1 billion, with over $100 million in taxes going to the state.

The potential for more jobs, keeping some tourists who would go to neighboring Nevada, and introducing regulations that would limit online betting are also potential benefits.

“It’s time to shine a light on this multibillion-dollar industry,” noted Assemblyman Gray. “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. All other gaming activities in California are subject to regulations that ensure the safety of consumers. Sports wagering should be treated no differently.”

However, even if ACA 16 moves forward next year, one big hurdle is Native tribes. Native tribes in California currently have exclusive rights to several types of gambling. As tribes have been battling the state over several gambling issues, such as having card games in their casinos, the introduction of sports betting could possibly be tied up over who would get to do what.

While talks with tribes have resumed in light of ACA 16 quickly moving up, there is a chance that ACA 16 could be passed without all the kinks being worked out, and could potentially lead to lost revenue as the issue is settled in courts. Although, ACA 16 requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to pass.

Supporters are currently trying to get all gaming institutions in the state on board for the large expansion of sports betting before the bill is brought formally before the Assembly and Senate.

Senator Bill Dodd. (Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

“We want to get an initiative on the ballot that voters can understand, that is easy to understand, and perhaps in the process it may bring all gaming institutions: game rooms, horse races, tribal casinos, all together.” explained Senator Dodd.

ACA 16 has been floating since June, as it was written for the upcoming session but never brought before committee when the gaming issues were brought up. The next big step comes on November 20th when a hearing on ACA 16 is scheduled to occur in Los Angeles, with many for and against sports betting planning to attend.

“Currently there’s a plan in place,” said California gaming organizer Todd Ritchie to the Globe. “We get past the hearing and then work with the Indian casinos until about February. Gray and Dodd will introduce ACA 16 and get it passed and signed by June. From there it will be added to the ballot. If it passes, which based on polls, it will, then we can have the Constitution changed in time to bet on the Super Bowl and in March Madness in 2021.”

“This is best case, but it’s also the current plan,” Ritchie added.

Those against ACA 16 have said that bringing on additional gambling to the state would be dangerous and would simply be taxing their own people more. Nevada casinos, particularly in Las Vegas and Reno, have also called for California not to pass it as their own sports betting may not survive the loss of Californian gamblers.

Should the Legislature pass ACA 16, California would be the 12th and largest state to legalize sports betting.

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