A New California Online Sports Betting Initiative May Be on the Way

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Oct 18, 2023 12:00 AM
Rumor has it a new California online sports betting bill may be on the way.

It turns out a new California online sports betting bill may, in fact, be filed ahead of the state’s 2024 legislative meetings. 

Nothing has been decided for sure. As of mid-October 2023, a new bill that would legalize online sports betting in California has yet to be filed. Not only that, but key stakeholders have actually denied one would be proposed in time for a meaningful discussion later this winter.

Still, where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire. And right now, the most recent reports suggest at least one tribe wants to put a piece of California online sports betting legislation on the table. 

Will they be successful? Does it matter if they are? Are they in the minority among tribes in The Golden State? Let’s parse all the latest details.

Pala Band of Mission Indians Announced Intention to File a California Online Sports Betting Proposal

Right around October 9, sources told PlayUSA’s Matthew Kredell that the Palan Band of Mission Indians intended to file a sports gambling bill. It was believed the proposal would include the legalization of online sports betting in California. 

Pala Chairman Robert Smith sent a communication to some tribal leaders Sunday giving them a heads up that the tribe will issue a news release Monday regarding filing a sports betting initiative for 2024,” Kredell wrote. “That press release still hadn’t been issued late in the day Monday, which is Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”

This news was initially met with optimism by those who have been waiting for California to get serious about bringing online sports betting to the region. However, a press release announcing the bill—or plans to file it—never actually came. And as of now, it may never come.

As Kredell relayed in a follow up piece that confirmed the tribe’s initial plans, Pala Chairman Robert Smith walked back his original language. According to the report, Pala sent a text to a handful of tribal readers that read: “Heads up Pala Band of Mission Indians is issuing a press release tomorrow sports wagering initiative for 2024, look forward to working with tribes!” Shortly thereafter, though, Mr. Smith met with other tribal leaders. The end result of those discussions was silence. From Kredell:

“On Tuesday morning, Pala met with members of the California Tribal Business Alliance to gather support for the initiative filing. Pala formed the CTBA in 2004. The other four members are the Ione Band of Miwok Indians, Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians, Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians and Wilton Rancheria. After receiving input from CTBA members and other tribal leaders, Pala did not follow through on filing the initiative this week. The tribe is said to be considering its options.”

Prominent Tribal Leader Dismisses Pala Band’s Attempt to File a California Online Sports Gambling Petition

It was no doubt interesting to hear that a California tribe was preparing to file an initiative that would allow online sportsbooks in the United States to enter the country’s biggest market. After all, the entire California sports betting battle has been painted as tribes vs. corporations. 

The state’s casinos are prepared to retail sports betting but do not want online gambling companies operating as anything more than mobile application partners. Online sports betting sites throughout the United States have pushed back against these limitations. They want independent California sports betting licenses. So far, though, tribes have been unwilling to budge. Conversely, online operators haven’t warmed up to the idea of serving as what amounts to tech support.

This is why Pala's planned announcement turned so many heads. It was viewed as either a sign that tribes at large might be changing their tune, or that the Pala tribe stood alone. A little more than one week following the original report, it’s becoming clear this was a case of the latter. Consider what Pechanga Chairman Mark Macarro, one of the most prominent tribal leaders in the state, told PlayUSA:

This is a tribe that has a proclivity to go out on its own, and maybe that’s what’s happening again here. Maybe this is just a case of one tribe wanting it so much when no one else really seems to want it. Certainly voters didn’t want it last election. But I’m looking forward to seeing the language. Maybe they came up with something brilliant that no one else thought up.”

To Maccaro’s credit, he seems at least open to checking out what Pala cobbled together. But the lack of subsequent response, news or announcements speaks volumes.

The Legalization of California Online Sports Betting Still Feels Incredibly Unlikely in 2024

While many had hoped there might be more progress on this issue before now, the same obstacles appear to be facing California sports betting attempts entering 2024. Chief among the roadblocks: a lack of support nearly across the board.

It is clear that the Pala tribe is in the minority when it comes to their views on California online sports betting. It is equally safe to say the California House of Representatives and Senate won’t feel any differently. Most officials wound up denouncing the 2022 California online sports betting bill, even if they didn’t come out in support of the retail wagering alternative. 

Granted, we can’t know the legislature’s sentiment for sure. We’ll understand more the next time they meet. But even if there is traction to put an online California sports betting bill on the 2024 electoral ballot, there’s no guarantee it gets passed by voters.

Roughly 82 percent of the voting population during the last election rejected Proposition 27, which would have legalized online sports betting in The Golden State. That’s a big gap to make up. 

Simply throwing another online sports betting initiative on the ballot likely won’t be enough to sway voter sentiment. It will take effective messaging and endorsements—months of work that will need to start soon.

Time for California to Shift Sports Betting Focus?

To be honest, at this rate, California may have an easier time legalizing on-site sports betting without the online element. 

More voters seemed open to that route, albeit support only checked in at 38 percent during the 2022 election. But that’s way better than 18 percent. 

What’s more, based on what happened in 2022, the House and Senate are far more likely to pass a retail-only piece of legislation through their ranks. That’s because such a bill will be backed by a majority of the state tribes.

How will this matter pan out? It’s almost not even worth hazarding a guess. When the California sports betting discussion isn’t altogether dormant, it’s been filled with unpredictable twists and turns. And the Pala tribe’s false start when it came to announcing an online sports betting bill seems to prove this trend will continue.

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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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