High Speed Rail Project Offers Californians Easier Access to Legal Sports Betting

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: May 7, 2024 08:00 PM
High Speed Rail Project Offers Californians Easier Access to Legal Sports Betting

Californians are on track to have easier access to legal sports betting.

No, we do not come bearing news that sports betting in California is about to be legalized. That’s off the table for 2024. A sports gambling bill never even hit the House or Senate floors during this year’s round of legislative sessions. Most now believe on-site California sports gambling will be legalized in 2026, with online approval to follow in 2028.

But don’t scroll away just yet. We have not arrived bereft of new developments. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Construction has officially begun on a high speed rail spanning from California to Las Vegas. And once it’s finished, Californians will have unprecedented access to Sin City, including the opportunity to bet on sports in Las Vegas before returning to the Golden State.

Numerous questions are naturally bubbling to the surface on the heels of this news. When will the rail be done? How accessible will it actually make Sin City to Californians? And perhaps most importantly, could this high-speed rail be among the forces that drive legal sports betting in California by 2026?

Las Vegas and California are About to Forge a Unique Connection

California and Las Vegas are already a manageable drive and ultra-quick flight away. But driving can be tedious, and the stress and costs associated with air travel make that form of transportation prohibitive for many. 

Enter the Brightline West railway system, a high-speed train that will serve as a connector between Southern California and Las Vegas. Here are the full details, as reported by CNBC’s Ryan Anastasio:

“The Brightline West system will average speeds of about 115 miles per hour and reach a top speed of around 200 mph, comparable to other high-speed systems around the world. The Eurostar between London and Paris averages speeds of about 150 mph and tops out at around 200 mph. Amtrak’s current Acela line from Boston to Washington, D.C., travels up to 150 mph, but averages speeds of just 70 mph. Acela has plans for a high-speed fleet that will reach 160 mph. The Brightline West system, touted as the ‘first true high-speed rail system’ in the U.S., will run across a 218-mile route between Las Vegas and three California stops including Rancho Cucamonga, about 40 miles east of Los Angeles. The project received $3 billion in funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the rest will be privately funded, according to the company.”

A concrete date for the Brightline West system launch has yet to be provided. However, it’s expected to be fully operational by 2028, when Los Angeles is scheduled to host the 2028 Olympics.

On top of that, according to CNBC, officials estimate the construction of Brightline West will create 35,000 jobs and have an economic impact of $10 billion

Will Brightline West Put Pressure on California to Legalize Sports Betting?

With a projected launch of 2028, the Brightline West rail won’t have an immediate impact on California sports betting. Then again, the state is already fairly close to Sin City. So, you better believe plenty of Californians are already frequenting sportsbooks in Las Vegas.

Still, the Brightline West system will inevitably make it even easier for Golden State residents to bet on sports in Las Vegas. And you have to believe that will be a factor when California sports betting legalization attempts resume in 2025

Granted, most have come to believe legal sports betting in the Golden State will get the stamp of approval in time for the 2026 selections. But as we’ve reiterated in the past, many thought legalization was a forgone conclusion in 2022. And look how that turned out. 

If anything, though, the looming launch of Brightline West in California should incentivize local tribes, online sportsbooks in the United States and state officials to hash out their primary differences. 

What’s the Status of Legal Sports Betting Talks in California?

Speaking of which, what are the primary California sports betting issues as we look ahead to the future? Well, they remain the same as they were in 2022.

Tribes currently have exclusive gaming rights in the Golden State. They believe that should extend to legal California sports betting. It seems most state officials tend to agree, as they threw most of their support behind the tribal-only sports betting initiative in 2022. 

Top online sportsbooks in the United States, of course, want a chance to operate independently inside the region. California profiles as the biggest sports betting market in the USA. That’s why they dug in during the 2022 negotiations.

However, their collective stance appears to have changed in recent months. FanDuel CEO Amy Howe recently emphasized the importance of tribes and USA online sportsbooks collaborating when it comes to California sports betting efforts

That’s a good sign for sports gambling advocates in the state. At the same time, comments from key tribal stakeholders make it clear they’re unwilling to budge on their claim to exclusivity. If online sportsbooks and tribal operators are truly going to work together, it may require the former to accept that they won’t receive their own legal sports betting license right away. 

To date, the most popular assumption is that on-site gambling will be legalized in 2026 (pending voter approval). Tribes would then, it seems, be willing to add online sportsbooks in California by 2028 (potentially pending voter approval). 

Though we’ll refrain from predicting anything concrete, this appears to be solid logic—in no small part because of the unprecedented access to Las Vegas Californians will have by that time.

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Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan Favale leverages over 12 years of sports journalism expertise in his role as New York staff writer. He provides in-depth analysis across the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, tennis, NASCAR, college basketball, and sports betting. Dan co-hosts the popular Hardwood Knocks NBA podc...

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