California Voters Weigh Options for Legal Sports Betting

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The legal US sports betting industry is closing out the first half of 2022 with each coast making waves. The list of states with legal sportsbooks continues to expand. Yet, one live market and one potential market are grabbing headlines.

The East Coast is led by New York as the biggest legal market in the country. In late May, the New York State Gaming Commission reported that the total sports betting handle for 2022 had exceeded $7.15 billion. This figure covered the total betting volume in the state between Jan. 8 and May 22.

New York has offered legal retail sports betting in upstate casinos since 2019. Online betting through mobile sportsbook operators such as FanDuel and DraftKings was legalized last year. Jan. 8 was the official launch date in the Empire State.

Out on the West Coast, California is poised to make its mark on the legal sports betting industry. Voters in that state should have at least two referendums on the matter attached to November’s general election. If both retail and online sports betting are approved, this market has the potential to be the biggest in the country.

More than a few industry experts have commented publicly on California’s impact. There are more than 40 million residents and 15 professional sports teams across the state. Given its overall size, this market remains the biggest prize for US-based sportsbook operators.

The first proposal under consideration is the “Californians for Solutions to Homelessness and Mental Health Support" initiative. This proposal has been backed by the biggest legal operators in the US. As much as $20 million has been raised to support the cause.

Under this proposal, both retail and online sports betting would be legalized. The state’s gaming tribes would be able to add retail sportsbooks to their land based casinos. Commercial operators such as BetMGM and Caesars would operate the mobile betting platform.

One of the groups opposed to this plan is the California Teachers Association. The CTA has not come out against legal sports betting. This group’s concern is how the tax revenue from legal betting would be allocated. As its stands, this would be earmarked for battling homelessness in the state while supporting mental health.

The CTA has proven clout across this state. Since 2000, only six of 26 proposals that the CTA opposed were passed by California voters.

The other sports betting proposal on this November’s ballot is backed by California’s Native American Tribes. The gaming tribes already have a monopoly on casino gambling in the state. This proposal would add retail sports betting to the gaming mix.

The big caveat to this proposal is the lack of online betting in the state. Retail sportsbooks would be able to operate in tribal casinos and in-state horse tracks such as Santa Anita Park and Del Mar.

There are 60 gaming tribes in California operating 66 land-based casinos. The “California Legalize Sports Betting on American Indian Lands” may not be able to gain the votes it needs due to the exclusion of legal mobile sports betting.

Ultimately, California voters will decide the future of legal sports betting in this state. The early betting odds may favor the proposal backed by the mobile sportsbook industry and its deep pockets. However, the tribal gaming system in place has the home field advantage.

Written by Dave Schwab, our US sports betting industry expert.