Will the fight for sports betting in California ever stop encountering new wrinkles? We're not quite sure. But we do know it hasn't stopped incurring them yet.
Two different initiatives aimed at legalizing sports betting throughout California are currently scheduled to appear on the November 2022 ballot. While they both authorize the implementation of sports wagering in some form, the terms of each are extremely different. One is backed only by tribal casinos and has recently become known as Prop 26. The other is largely supported—and entirely funded by—commercial sportsbooks such as DraftKings and FanDuel; it is now known as Prop 27.
Those are the only two measures that will appear on the November ballot. And yet, despite that, a third party has entered the mix: Californians for Tribal Sovereignty and Safe Gaming. Though they entertained trying to get the signatures required to have their own proposal on this November's ballot, they instead shifted to lobbying against both Prop 26 and Prop 27. This group, made up entirely of other California tribes, has started making an even bolder push in recent weeks—ever since Democrats voted against supporting online sports betting in 2022.
The question we're all left to ask is why.
Why would Californians for Tribal Sovereignty and Safe Gaming redouble their efforts to oppose both sports betting bills residents are set to vote on? Why didn't they just move forward with getting their own measure on the ballot? And why are they so against both Prop 26 and Props 27 in the first place?
Other Tribes are Pushing Back Against Sports Betting in California—For Now
Contrary to popular belief, the tribes that make up the third side of this equation are not against sports betting in California. They're simply not thrilled with the terms of the current proposals.
Prop 26 would legalize brick-and-mortar betting only; there would be no online sports gambling. This measure shares a core belief with Californians for Tribal Sovereignty and Safe Gaming; They, too, are against online sports betting. That's why supporters of Prop 26 and members of the Tribal Sovereignty and Safe Gaming coalition both oppose Prop 27. This initiative legalizes online sports wagering and opens the door for commercial sites to operate within California. Proponents of Prop 27 have included provisions that demand online sportsbooks must partner with at least one tribal casino apiece, but that olive branch isn't seen as enough of an incentive to gain widespread tribal support.
Still, more recently, some tribes have advocated in favor of Prop 27. This is because the tribal-bankrolled Prop 26 stipulates that only a handful of tribal casinos would be able to offer on-site sports betting. It also prevents card rooms from offering sports wagering services altogether.
This has left tribes who would not benefit from Prop 26 with one of two choices: support Prop 27 and partner with an online sportsbook if it's passed, or oppose both measures. Californians for Tribal Sovereignty and Safe Gaming are rolling with Option No. 2. They want both measures to fail in November...so that they can swoop in with their own, likely unchallenged proposal in advance of 2024 elections.
What's the End Game of Californians for Tribal Sovereignty and Safe Gaming
Waiting another few years would be a pretty large concession for anyone who wants to legalize sports betting in California. But the members of Tribal Sovereignty and Safe Gaming the delay think it would be worthwhile.
If both Prop 26 and Prop 27 are voted down, neither side will have a leg to stand on when it comes to formulating new legislature. They can't simply re-propose the same initiative that already failed to pass. In this instance, Californians for Tribal Sovereignty and Safe Gaming would be able to set the sports betting market ahead of the 2024 elections. They would not only probably see their bill run unopposed, but it's likely they would gain a boatload of more support from tribes who backed Prop 27.
It isn't yet clear whether this group would also poach the support of tribes who currently stand with Prop 26. Californians for Tribal Sovereignty and Safe Gaming are known to want gaming in card rooms and prefer for on-site sports betting licenses to be more accessible to tribal casinos in general, but it remains to be seen whether they would call for all tribal casinos to get the go-ahead. Experts expect any 2024 measure would leave off the primary authors of Prop 26, who have excluded members of the Californians for Tribal Sovereignty and Safe Gaming from their current proposal.
So, is Sports Betting in California Dead Until 2024?
Californians hoping to see some form of legal sports betting pass during the 2022 election needn't lose too much sleep. Nothing is written in stone.
Most, in fact, originally believed Prop 27 would receive resounding voter support. The Democrats' refusal to back it has added uncertainty to that equation, but Prop 27 can still technically pass. And if it doesn't, there's always the chance on-site sports betting comes to California if Prop 26 passes.
Residents only have to worry about this process being held up until 2024—or more likely 2025, after factoring in the time it takes to roll out betting licenses and systems—if both Prop 26 and Prop 27 fail. And while that's a possibility, it isn't necessarily the most likely outcome. Multiple polls show Californians are overwhelmingly in favor of at least one type of legal sports betting.
Still, if the worst-case scenario is actualized this November, Californians are not up you-know-what's creek without a paddle. They can set up accounts with any one of the sites from our reviews of the top online sportsbooks and always have the option of traveling to neighboring states that have legalized sports betting. Neither may be particularly convenient, but it sure beats waiting out the alternative: a years-long delay for legal sports betting that still, as of now, wouldn't include online gambling options.
Take a look at this list of the top online sportsbooks so you can find one that works for all of your sports betting needs:
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