To this point, the absence of legal sports betting in California looms as a major outlier. Thirty-three states and Washington D.C. have already made the leap, which amounts to more than half of the United States. California, however, has so far resisted making the same transition. That may change this November, on their election ballot. Or it may stand. Either way, though, the stakes are incredibly high—not just for California alone, but for the rest of the country.
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Heading into the spring of 2022, betting on sports in California continues to be illegal, and it's not slated to change anytime soon. The matter won't be addressed again until the November 2022 elections, at which time voters will have their next chance to be heard.
Of course, we don't actually have to wait that long to understand which way the state is leaning. A recent poll showed California voters support legal betting on sports, suggesting that the 2022 legal sports betting bill will go through without much drama.
But whether the latest pro-sports-betting measure passes in November 2022 is only part of the story. With one year to go before the elections, experts are starting to project what legal sports betting in California could mean for the rest of the country.
Legal Sports Betting in California Could Have Trickle-Down Effect on the United States
Bigger states carry a lot of influence over the rest of the U.S. And as the most densely populated state in the country by more than 10 million residents, California is very much a tone-setter and benchmark when it comes to how other regions operate.
What does this have to do with legal sports betting, you ask? Well, if California votes to legalize sports betting in 2022, any other holdout states are expected to follow suit thereafter.
Consider what Daniel Wallach, a Florida-based attorney who has advised various sports-wagering bodies, recently told Politico: "California is the holy grail of U.S. sports betting markets. “This is going to be a half-a-billion-dollar battle for control of the most lucrative betting market in the world.”
"A lot of people basically think the rest of the country will legalize if California does,” added Oklahoma State University professor John Holden, who has testified as an expert witness as states consider gambling legislation, according to Politico.
This is a huge deal. Aside from California, 16 other states continue to oppose legal sports betting. Assuming they all cave if California does the same this November, that will not only create universally legal sports betting throughout the country, but it will lead to plenty of battles over who gains the right to obtain sports betting licenses in every region.
Obstacles Facing Legal Sports Betting in California—and Other States
In some cases, certain states staunchly oppose the legalization of sports betting because of conservative-leaning politics. For the most part, though, even the most stubborn holdouts have at least broached the idea of green lighting sports betting in some form. The real problem has been deciding who has the right to offer such services.
Take California, for example. The primary reason sports betting has yet to be legalized is an ongoing tug-of-war between tribal casino operations and bigger sportsbook companies such as FanDuel, DraftKings, Caesars, etc.
Though there is a lot of nuance to these disagreements, the gist of it all is that Native American tribes maintain they're entitled to exclusive sports gambling rights, both in-person and online. They have, after all, been granted exemptions to operate their casinos, so their logic is not out of the left field.
Bigger corporations such as DraftKings and FanDuel, however, insist that they are better suited to service a broader clientele. They have more experience running online sportsbook operations and catering to a much larger customer base. They also point to the relative inexperience of tribal casinos actually having an online footprint. Most of them don't have online or even mobile sportsbooks. FanDuel, Caesars, DraftKings, et al. have both.
Why the Future of Legal Sports Betting in California Remains Murky
Everything discussed above is exactly why nobody can guarantee sports betting gets legalized in California by the end of the year. Sure, the polls may say it's going to happen. But there's still time for lobbyists to scuttle the proceedings, and you better believe both sides of this argument are investing millions in said lobbyists.
On top of that, voting for the legalization of sports betting doesn't actually ensure anything. The local government still has to enforce and implement it. There are no assurances that California will just bend to public preference if the contentious relations between Native American tribes and larger corporations persist.
You also better believe California understands the influence they'll have over the future of sports betting elsewhere. The same battles being fought between tribal casinos and corporate sportsbooks there will be staged elsewhere if California opens the floodgates this November. Government officials won't take that lightly.
When push comes to shove, though, we still expect sports betting to get California's stamp of approval. Too much of it is already happening throughout the region. Residents can visit neighboring states to place bets or even pore over reviews of the top online sportsbooks to see which ones accept their wagers anyway.
As for when sports betting operations will be up and running in California, we can't be sure. Ditto for what legal sports betting will even look like in the state. We know nothing can be legalized before November, but it can take up to a year for California to set up and approve the necessary infrastructure, and they still need to sort out who will be allowed to obtain gaming licenses. Put another way: You shouldn't hold your breath for legal sports betting to be made official in California before the middle to end of 2023.
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