California lawmakers end bid to put legalized sports betting on November ballot

California
People place bets at Dover Downs Casino on June 5, 2018 in Dover, Delaware. (Credit: Mark Makela/Getty Images)

People place bets at Dover Downs Casino on June 5, 2018, in Dover, Delaware. (Credit: Mark Makela/Getty Images)

California lawmakers on Monday ended a bid to put a measure on the November ballot that would legalize sports wagering in the nation’s largest market, potentially setting up a showdown with tribal casinos in 2022.

The tribes had hoped to put their own version on the November ballot to legalize sports wagering at racetracks and tribal casinos, but say they will be delayed unless they win a court-ordered extension of the deadline to verify petition signatures.

Both sides blamed the coronavirus pandemic for delaying what they initially hoped would be votes this fall.

State Sen. Bill Dodd of Napa and Assemblyman Adam Gray of Merced withdrew their proposed constitutional amendment a day before it was to face a key Senate committee vote and a looming deadline for two-thirds of lawmakers to put it on the ballot.

“Given the deadlines for getting a measure on the November ballot and the impact of Covid-19 on the public’s ability to weigh in, we were not able to get the bill across the finish line this year,” Dodd said.

He promised to keep working toward the 2022 mid-term elections to “lift this widespread practice out of the shadows to make it safer and to generate money for the people of California.”

He and Gray had pitched their bill as a way to eventually generate up to $700 million annually as the once-flush state tries to close a $54 billion budget gap caused by the pandemic.

Kyle Kirkland, president of the California Gaming Association that represents card rooms, called its failure a lost opportunity to reap money that could have gone for worthy state programs.

The two lawmakers introduced the legislation after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a federal ban on sports betting in 2018. Since then nearly two dozen states and the District of Columbia have authorized sports betting.

PlayCA.com analyst Dustin Gouker last month called California “the holy grail of sports betting markets,” projecting that it could bring more than $30 billion in annual wagers, $2 billion in revenue for operators and $300 million in state taxes under the lawmakers’ plan.

The California Nations Indian Gaming Association said Monday that internet sports betting would have “threatened brick-and-mortar establishments” and would “reward out-of-state commercial business entities and raise regulatory challenges.”

More than 1 million people have signed the tribes’ ballot measure to legalize sports wagering at racetracks and tribal casinos, said spokesman Jacob Mejia.

But the group has not yet submitted its signatures for verification, and the deadline for completing that entire process is Thursday. If the signatures are verified later, the measure will be on the November 2022 ballot.

The tribes’ campaign sued to get the deadline extended, citing the coronavirus stay-at-home order that delayed signature gathering.

“Without an extension we cannot meet the current deadline” for November Mejia said.

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