California Sports Betting Could Face Similar Obstacles in 2024

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Sep 13, 2023 12:00 AM
Is there any hope for California sports betting in 2024?

The word on California sports betting continues to skew toward pessimistic as we inch closer toward the 2024 calendar year. And we’re not quite sure whether there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

Last year’s epic failure continues to haunt The Golden State. Voters shot down not one, but two measures that would have legalized sports betting in California. The results were overwhelming. And by the time they rolled in, they were hardly surprised. Officials were bracing for the 2022 California sports gambling proposals to implode once the general election kicked off. But that wasn’t always the case. California was considered a lock to approve some form of sports betting right up until a few weeks before the issue was put to vote. Counter-campaigning funded by the opposing sides of the matter, which pitted Proposition 26 (on-site gambling) versus Proposition 27 (online sports betting), ended up grating on residents. The oversaturation and conflicting nature of the messaging completely reversed public sentiment.

Now, as the state closes 2023, many are actually worried California sports betting will be altogether left of the 2024 electoral ballot. What’s more, experts and industry insiders have openly spoken about the possibility that the state won’t even seek to discuss a sports gambling bill when legislative meetings convene early next year. This, quite obviously, would be a disastrous development for anyone hoping voters get another crack at determining the future of legal sports gambling in California. If the state doesn’t propose a new initiative this winter, they will have to wait until the 2026 general election, at the absolute earliest, to get another measure (or two) on a ballot.

Fortunately, there are plenty of people who still expect one or more California sports betting bills to reach the House and Senate floors. And yet, as it turns out, the introduction of any proposals may actually be aimed at ensuring sports betting does not pass. 

Opposing Sides of the California Sports Betting Issue May Seek to Derail Each Other with Warring Proposals

You’re reading that correctly. The sheer number of potential California sports gambling bills themselves may be designed to act as a legalization deterrent. 

That doesn’t necessarily make sense at first blush. But it’s also sort of what happened during the 2022 elections. Supporters of on-site-only sports betting and those who backed legal online sports gambling didn’t just fund their initiatives to advance their own agenda. They created them to dampen interest in the opposition’s agenda. Matthew Kredell of PlayUSA recently explained how this worked in 2022, and how it might come into play, again, during the next round of discussions:

“Two years ago, stakeholders filed four California sports betting initiatives. Just two qualified for the ballot. The others opted not to try for 2022. Even if they don’t plan on taking it to the 2024 ballot, some stakeholders might file a California sports betting initiative merely as a deterrent. Tribes didn’t spend any money promoting Prop 26 last year. But some tribal backers said having another sports betting measure on the ballot hurt Prop 27. Perhaps multiple factions of tribes file California sports betting initiatives to keep each other and commercial operators in check. Sportsbook operators might want to do the same. Filing an initiative keeps options open.”

Believe it or not, the risk of innumerable sports betting bills feels greater projecting ahead to 2024. A handful of tribes, race tracks and card rooms weren’t thrilled that they would not have qualified for a California sports betting license under the previous on-site measure. If they’re not featured in the next one, we could see waaaay more than for initial proposals get tossed onto the table. 

Meanwhile, the growing number of online sportsbooks in the United States could result in more competition among mobile terms. States don’t hand out an unlimited number of online sports betting licenses. Newer or smaller operators may bristle at proposals that mandate high application fees and inherently, even if indirectly, favor larger and more established sportsbooks. To that end, there could be more battles fought in 2024 than 2022. Back then, it was mainly on-site gambling operators vs. mobile sportsbooks. This time around, those sides will still clash. But we could also see more disagreements among on-site gambling operators, as well as less cohesion with the online betting ranks. The end result in this instance wouldn’t be pretty. This level of discord would almost guarantee more of the same: voters turned off by a lack of alignment.

Should Californians Holding Out Hope for Legal Sports Gambling Brace Themselves for Disappointment in 2024?

Realistically speaking, all California sports betting supporters should prepare themselves for further delays in the years to come. The state has a lot of ground to make up, and loads of compromising to do, if they’re going to spit out just one sports gambling proposal in 2024. 

With that said, the risk of warring initiatives cannibalizing one another probably isn’t as great as it might seem. 

When California sports gambling failed in 2022, it wasn’t only about voters having multiple options. It was about flawed messaging and execution. Neither of the two primary proposals adequately outlined where the revenue would go. They also failed to capitalize on messaging vessels and the possible shift of public sentiment that comes with them. Chances for promotion were foregone in favor of opportunities to campaign against the other side.

In the end, both proposals came as slapdash, disorganized and uninformative. And as a result, each initiative was flattened in the polls. Around 67 percent of voters said “no,” to Proposition 26, according to The Los Angeles Times. On the flip side, more than 82 percent of voters said “no” to Proposition 27.

Framed this way, the California sports betting problem isn’t a matter of too many competing options. It’s an issue of slumping public support. Everyone from all sides must work getting voters to start advocating for the general idea of legalized sports betting. Then, and only then, does it make sense to debate what form it should take. 

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Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan first began writing about sports back in 2011. At the time, his expertise lied in the NBA and NFL. More than one decade, that remains the case. But he's also expanded his catalog to include extensive knowledge and analysis on the NHL, MLB, tennis, NASCAR, college ba...

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