‘The Moment Is Right for Us’: California Moves Toward Legalized Sports Betting

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MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images. Pictured: The California State flag flies outside City Hall, in Los Angeles, California.

May 29, 2020, 02:59 PM EDT

In the midst of a budget deficit caused by the coronavirus crisis, California could turn to sports betting to increase revenue.

Sen. Bill Dodd and Assemblyman Adam Gray have pitched amendments to the state’s constitution that would legalize in-person and online sports betting in the Golden State.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a $54 billion budget deficit, Governor Gavin Newsom said, so the legalization of sports betting could help prevent cuts in other areas.

“The amount of money that can be raised in benefit of the state with online wagering is estimated to be up to $700 million a year,” Dodd said, per Legal Sports Report. “We’re looking to get those revenues for a COVID-type budget where we need to be looking out for every opportunity to increase our revenues at a time when we have to make so many cuts.”

The bill would allow sports betting in the state’s tribal casinos and racetracks. The state’s four horse racing tracks would also be authorized to house one satellite wagering facility.

While cardrooms wouldn’t be authorized to permit sports betting, they would be allowed to offer player games without facing opposition from tribes.

The trade-off for the tribes presents a problem, however.

Tribal casinos could offer roulette and craps if the new legislation passes, but the California Nations Indian Gaming Association already believed cardrooms had already been operating illegally.

To prevent an unfavorable trade-off for themselves, tribes started their own sports betting ballot initiative in November, garnering close to a million signatures before the COVID-19 pandemic halted their actions.

“We urge Senator Dodd to remove the provisions relating to California cardrooms until that industry exhibits consistent behavior that proves that they are both willing and able to operate within the confines of the laws and regulations that currently exist,” association president James Siva said in a statement.

California’s budget deadline is June 15. The bill’s final day to make it on the ballot would be June 25.

Dodd set a hearing in the Senate Governmental Organization Committee for June 2, and he expects the bill to be voted on then.

For the constitutional amendment bill to reach the ballot, it needs a two-thirds legislative vote. Then, it would take a majority of voters to approve it.

If the state does legalize sports betting, it has the potential to be a big hit.

With 15 professional sports teams across the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL, as well as the country’s highest state population, California could become the nation’s next hottest sports betting market.

Before that can happen, though, there remains work to be done and challenges to be met.

“I’m not overconfident about getting this across,” Dodd said. “It’s going to be some heavy lifting. But I think the moment is right for us. The reality is that we’re trying to find that sweet spot. We’ll find out if we did.”

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