California still faces hurdles to legalize sports betting
Sports betting legislation is on the march in California, and if things go as seamlessly in the Assembly as they did in the Senate, Gov. Jerry Brown might have legislation on his desk by the time the session wraps up on the final day of August.
A staff member of the Senate Governmental Organizational Committee, which spearheaded the lopsided 32-2 vote that passed in the Senate on Tuesday, says that he expects some opposition as the bill moves its way through the process in the Assembly. He cited anti-gambling organizations in the state, who typically have opposed all forms of gambling expansion in the country’s most populous state.
California appears to have little appetite for a New Jersey-like assault on the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, the federal government’s impediment to full-scale single-event wagering in all states except Nevada. In fact, the GOC staffer said the feeling in the corridors of the capitol in Sacramento seems to be that California will get its ducks in order with regard to sports betting, then wait for the dust to settle in the battle between the Dept. of Justice and the state of New Jersey.
If Jersey can take the DoJ’s best legal punch and implement sports wagering in its 12 Atlantic City casinos and four race tracks, California will have a head start on the West Coast toward accepting wagers at its numerous tribal casinos and card rooms. The staffer, who asked not to be identified, said that California is basically “piggy-backing” New Jersey.
Brown, who has yet to commit either way on the issue, is in the process of confronting deep budget issues that even the tax revenue from full-blown sports betting would not even come close to solving. One recent report suggested that the state is facing a budget shortfall of more than $16.2 billion, rather than the $9.2 billion that was projected only a few months ago. That means significant cuts to school aid, health care, and a multitude of social programs.
No one is even sure that passage of a bill, and Brown’s signature on the legislation, would be enough. The state constitution specifically prohibits most forms of gambling, including sports betting, but gives the governor and legislature a great deal of leeway to cut deals with Indian tribes. (There are 38 Indian-owned casinos and about 90 card rooms, all of which would be allowed to take sports bets if the bill is signed and the feds can be accommodated.)
Whether a state-wide referendum is needed is also uncertain. “Depends on what lawyers you talk to,” said the staffer.
Early in June the bill will begin its winding process through various committees, hopefully getting stamps of approval along the way for the next three months and receiving Brown’s signature before Labor Day. One hopeful note – Democrats, which tend to be more accommodating on pro-gambling issues, outnumber Republicans in the Assembly, 52-27.