Tribes, Racetracks Unite for California Sports Betting
The roadblocks in the way of legalized sports betting in California began to evaporate last week when a coalition of tribes and state racetracks proposed a ballot measure that would allow tribal casinos and tracks accept such wagers. Mark Macarro (l.), chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, says the measure gives Californian’s the “freedom” to bet on sports responsibly.
In an effort to legalize sports betting in California, a coalition of tribes and state racetracks last week proposed a ballot measure—the California Sports Wagering Regulation and Unlawful Gambling Enforcement Act—that would allow tribal casinos and tracks to participate in a sports betting industry in the state.
As currently written, the measure would “safeguard consumers and provide protections by:
- Permitting limited sports wagering at Indian gaming casinos and licensed racetracks.
- Only permitting sports wagering by those over 21 to safeguard against underage gambling and requiring bettors to be physically present to place sports wagers.
- Prohibiting the marketing and advertising of sports wagering to minors.
- Permitting sports wagering only on lawful professional, college, or amateur sport or athletic events.
- Prohibiting wagering on any high school sports or athletic events and prohibiting wagering on sports events in which any California college team participates.
- Authorizing the legislature to provide for consumer protections and anti-corruption measures to ensure the integrity of sporting events.
- Protecting public safety by strengthening the enforcement of California’s current gambling laws to allow Californians to hold unlawful gambling operations accountable through Private Attorneys General Act provisions.
- Imposing a 10 percent tax on gross gaming revenues derived from sports wagering for public safety, mental health programs, education, and regulatory costs. Fines collected from unlawful gambling operations under this measure will be directed into the California Sports Wagering Fund.
- Ensuring that establishments that offer legal sports wagering play by the rules by making them subject to audit standards.
- Permitting craps and roulette at Indian gaming casinos.”
There is no provision in the measure to allow mobile gaming, but supporters don’t want to specifically prohibit mobile betting in the event that it could be addressed in the future without passing another constitutional amendment.
The proposal is a significant event in the struggle to legalize sports wagering, and it immediately pits the tribes and racetracks against the state’s card rooms and possibly one of the most powerful unions, UNITE-HERE, a hotel workers group that has never been able to organize tribal employees.
The measure also sidesteps an effort by two members of the state Assembly, Bill Dodd and Adam Grey, to move another referendum forward—Assembly Constitution Amendment 16—that lacks many specifics, including who would be permitted to operate sports betting. Dodd wants to get all the possible participants in the same room, including the card rooms, which is not acceptable to the tribes.
The tribal-racetrack proposal is supported by 18 tribes, including the largest and most successful gaming operators across the state, including Pechanga, Morongo, San Manuel, Graton and others.
Mark Macarro, chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, said that unanimity is important to the effort.
“Californians should have the choice to participate in sports wagering at highly regulated, safe, and experienced gaming locations,” he said. “We are very proud to see tribes from across California come together for this effort, which represents an incremental but important step toward giving Californians the freedom to participate in this new activity in a responsible manner.”
“We have historically been opposed to the expansion of gaming in California beyond the current scope,” said Anthony Roberts, chairman of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation. “This initiative represents a viable and measured path that provides Californians with the opportunity to wager on sports in a manner that is responsible and provides for real enforcement penalties for unlawful gambling in the state.”
CNIGA Chairman Steve Stallings calls the proposal, “the best example of well-written and responsible sports betting policy presented to date.”
This initiative provides for a modest expansion of gambling in California by allowing tribal governments and currently licensed horse racing associations to accept wagers on sports and athletic events at their gaming properties,” he says.
“A strong, well-regulated gaming industry is of utmost importance to California’s tribal governments and the public. This initiative allows sports wagering in a responsible manner and provides for transparency and strict regulation.
“California voters have, on numerous occasions, confirmed the exclusive right of California tribal governments to operate casino-style games. Legalization of sports betting should not become a back-door way to infringe upon that exclusivity.”
Kyle Kirkland, president of the California Gaming Association, which represents the state card rooms, told the Los Angeles Times that he hadn’t seen the proposal, but, “We would be disappointed at any initiative that allowed sports betting but that didn’t include card clubs.”
Most importantly for the tribes, it protects their tribal sovereignty by amending the constitution to allow sports betting and not impacting the sovereign status of the tribal nations.
While the measure gives the tribes and racetracks exclusivity to legal sports betting, it likely will not impact the illegal online sports betting currently enjoyed by California residents. The lack of mobile sports betting, at least initially, will dampen the revenue achieved by legal California sports betting. In New Jersey, almost 80 percent of the state sports betting revenues come from mobile wagering.