California Sports Betting Faces Tough But Not Impossible Road


California is the fifth largest economy in the world — if you carved it from the US — but remains at the 20th Century regarding gaming regulation.
With a projected first-year tax earnings of $100 million, an individual would think that California would want sports gambling legalized as quickly as possible. But…it could be five years, or even longer, before sports gambling is headquartered in the state.
A lot of the problem is the lack of comprehension of this territory, and the way the stakeholders interact with one another and the state government. Hopefully this guide will clear some of the smoke out of the room.
As this is the second sector this decade which has flipped from illegal to controlled, California already has some experience in that regard. I’ll try to decode here what the problems are, in the hope that better understanding of those issues will help reach some win/win for all parties involved as efficiently as possible.
The lay of the land for California sports gambling Present-day stakeholders in CA gaming include these three entities:
Horse racing tracks
The cardrooms
Cardrooms have been legal since 1936 (draw pokerhold’em along with other poker matches were held to be lawful in 1987, player-banked table games were lawful at 1988). In all three instances, the cardrooms needed to go to court, challenge the nation’s gambling statute, and win.
They are subject to state law, that was criticized (and justly so, in my opinion) by tribal gaming interests. They’re a politically powerful enough group, but pale compared to the governmental power the tribes have in California.
Tribal gaming
Tribes originally offered bingo, then after winning the landmark Cabazon case in 1987, which resulted in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, moved to slot machines, player-banked table games between cards (house-banked card games in 1993), and eventually went into the electorate to get their casinos fully legal in 2000. The ballot initiative, Prop 1A, amended the California Constitution as follows:
The Legislature has no power to authorize, and shall prohibit, casinos of the type currently operating in Nevada and New Jersey. (Art. IV, Sec. 19 (e))
The tribes (or rather, their lawyers and lobbyists) have interpreted this to mean they have a monopoly on anything that might be given in a casino, which might include things like sports betting.
While horse racing is generally regarded as a mature industry, with two big tracks final in the last ten years since the land was more precious set to housing and other applications, it’s still a favorite pastime for many in California, and the horsemen have political clout too.
How they intersect
As you might expect, the three stakeholders do not enjoy each other.
The real stakeholders, of course, are the people of California, who would likely see tax revenues approaching $100 million from the initial year of performance, and upwards of that as the market matures.
On the other hand, the CA state budget is roughly $180 billion annually, so everything is relative. An individual would think there is enough cash to go around this time, which wasn’t the case with online poker, which a minority of California tribes managed to defeat in the legislature over a nine-year (and counting) period.
A brief legislative history of sports gambling in California
Sports betting has been discussed in the legislature for nearly two decades now. Early in 2016, Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-Merced), who’s also chair of the Assembly’s Governmental Organizational Committee (which oversees, among other things, gambling in the state) introduced AB 1573, that could produce a framework for supplying sports gambling.
The invoice was rather vanilla in terms of regulation: service providers licensing with a stakeholder to supply services. For a lot of reasons, for instance, federal sports gambling ban was intract in the time, the bill never got past a reading, nor was there any type of informational hearing on the situation.
Assemblyman Gray returned in 2017 using ACA 18, which will change the California Constitution to allow the legislature to regulate sports gambling. This also went nowhere, although it’s interesting to note that Gray may or may not have needed his timeline backwards.
Normally, with respect to gambling growth in California, you will need the electorate to approve a ballot proposal , then the legislature would compose and approve regulations for this. There may or might not be a suggestion here that lawmakers believed it originally wouldn’t require voter approval to promulgate sports betting regulations.
Changing the constitution?
Finally, a group called”Californians For Sports Betting” declared it would be attempting to get an initiative on the 2020 ballot which would repeal the aforementioned clause approved by the electorate in 2000.
The first ballot proposal sought to strike Article IV, Sec 19 (e) of the California Constitution. I originally believed this ballot proposal was sponsored by a sportsbook, since no one with understanding of how California politics works would understand that the tribes could invest upwards of $100 million, and not batting an eye writing the checks, to defeat this step and protect their property interests.
This accomplished was the following:
It irritated the tribes , they used their political ability to get any hearings canceled on the matter, thus effectively killing any legislation for 2018.
The step also annoyed the cardroom business, because it preempted whatever they had been attempting to accomplish with sports betting, and because many tribes (wrongly) would believe that the cardrooms were behind the bill (they were not ). There’s not a lot of trust at this time between the cardrooms and the sportsbook operators.
There is a panic among both a few tribes and a few cardroom operators that the sportsbooks could just sweep and dominate the gambling business, and need to know more before deciding how to proceed. Whether this fear is logically based isn’t relevant.
A rewrite of the ballot measure
The promoters did rewrite the initiative a couple of months afterwards, which abandoned Art IV, Sec 19 (e) unchanged, but restricting the governor from negotiating compacts with tribes that want to run off-reservation gambling (which most tribes likely would encourage ), and directly authorizing the legislature to regulate sports betting, in the way suggested by Gray’s 2016 AB 1573.
So, the current version of the ballot initiative looks more like it had been composed by a celebration with some sophistication as to how gaming works in California, or at least got some help on the issue.
Finally, I’d expect some variant of the previous ACA 18 or AB 1573, or perhaps both, to surfaced soon after the legislature reconvenes after the holidays.
Who’ll get to split the cash, and when?
The stumbling block in all this is an unnecessary struggle regarding who gets to own the game.
The tribes initially attempted to play with the monopoly card, but realizing that the monitors are simply too powerful to be excluded, enlisted them in an alliance against the cardrooms.
Moreover, it’s not a fantastic look to state you’re against sports gambling, as some tribes and tribal assistants have stated, when you’re not just remodeling your unprofitable off-track-betting centre, you’re marketing the reopening of it as well. In fairness, tribal interests aren’t necessarily aligned with this problem, based upon the tribe. As you are going to see, there is going to be something here for everyone who’s spent in this to despise.
The biggest difficulty, as I see California, is that you have two major entities who operate gaming companies with considerable political power, but actually do not understand either gambling nor the casino business.
Cardrooms and tribes stand to gain Cardrooms can’t have some interest in the results of any arrangement in their own cardroom. Moreover, though some operators fantasize about having the ability to bank their own games (and therefore eliminate the (Third-Party Providers of Proposition Player Services or TPPPS), the truth is that particular learning curve will be steep and likely very expensive. Game protection is an entirely different animal when it’s your bankroll at stake.
Tribal members get a test, and if they’re lucky, a wholesome check, each month from gambling revenues, but do not really know how that test is created. So, you have two associated, regulated businesses which are fundamentally mom and pop businesses, regardless of the size of these, that normally rely upon others to advise them how to conduct their businesses.
The tribes are satisfied with the status quo and leary of anything but, and that’s certainly understandable.
There are not any visionary Jack Binion or even Terry Lanni clones in tribal gambling or the cardroom industry. What confusion that comes from that is definitely understandable. Unfortunately, this brings in a number of celebrities that don’t always have their customers or investors best interests in mind.
No Lack of unsympathetic parties
The tribes, for the most part, rely upon their corporate lawyers and lobbyists, that, for the large part, oblige them by treating them like ATM machines, selling unneeded, unnecessary, and most importantly, unwinnable conflict.
The latest development is a lawsuit filed last month by two Southern California tribes from numerous cardrooms, asserting that they are running banked table games from violation of the so-called monopoly on table games.
The first problem is that if this is accurate, they are suing the wrong people; their beef is with the condition. The next problem is that if you’re going to sue the State over violation of compact (the appropriate filing and cause of activity here), this lawsuit always is observed in federal court. As there’s a failure to join a essential party to the litigation (the State of California) which likely will not consent to be sued in state court, the most likely result is most likely that the issue will be dismissed on procedural grounds.
Effective regulation?
On the other hand, you have a number of”old school” cardroom investors who keep score by how much they could make, but by how far they can get over. You have a few operators who honestly shouldn’t, in my opinion, maintain gaming licenses, and the tribes’ complaints to the state in their inability to regulate (read”discipline”) these operators is a valid one.
Additionally, it fairly begs the question whether or not the state is suitably equipped to really enforce bad behaviour (as opposed to letting the miscreants write a test to”settle” the accusations). If they can’t revoke a licensee for egregious anti-money laundering violations, it makes you wonder if they can fairly govern a company which manages substantially more cash.
The tribes have fought the cardrooms for a number of years on the so-called player-banked game issue. Cardrooms, due to California legislation, can provide table games, as long as the players bank the matches rather than the house. Services known as TPPPS will charge the games when no one wants to. The occurrence of the companies is at root the heart and spirit of the meat that the tribes have with the nation.
They claim that they have a”monopoly” on table games and slot machines, in which the fact is they probably have neither. They understand this, too. For years, they have threatened all kinds of litigation.
The problem is, any lawsuit against the State of California would always occur in federal court, rather than say. Why is this significant? Having a US District Court judge, which will be an appointed for life position, the ruling will be on the legislation, and just the law, rather than the political triangulation elected state court judges frequently offer as a guise to interpreting the law.
To find past movement in federal court, you’re going to need to prove you’ve been hurt; Quite simply, you’re likely to have to prove you actually have a monopoly. Hanging your hat on a vaguely written part of the state constitution is a surefire method to sabotage what monopoly may exist within your mind.
While courts have used the term”monopoly” within their remarks regarding tribal gaming in California, there’s been no explicit grant of a biography from the electorate. The constitutionality of Art IV Sec 19 (e) hasn’t been challenged, in my opinion the clause is murky, particularly in light that the tribes might have choosen more direct language in writing the ballot proposal.
Moreover, from the lawsuit which has previously happened, it has been by individual members of tribes suing as humans, using some creative methods for getting their grievances aired in (country ) court. Thus, looking at things from a purely historical fashion, the tribes likely know exactly where they’re at with all of this.
The reality for CA sports betting There are four issues that are real and static.
The convenience Element To begin with, cardroom customers are almost always customers of advantage. Think about the man who’d rather store at 7-Eleven (bad selection, high costs ) compared to the Safeway, because the 7-Eleven is across the road and he must drive ten minutes into the Safeway.
Most gamblers only wish to be in action as soon as possible. That is why a gambler who lives in Alhambra, east of downtown Los Angeles, which is perhaps 45 minutes out of San Manuel, one of the best locals casinos everywhere, would rather drive the 15 minutes to Commerce Casino, though the comforts are poor and the cost of gaming is much greater.
Therefore, even if a number of those table games went off tomorrow, the cardroom customer would likely just go back to playing the traditional player-banked matches (i.e. Pai gow tiles, Pai gow poker, etc) or poker. Yes, cardroom revenues would decrease marginally but the tribes could get hardly any . Definitely no matter the millions they have invested with the lawyers and lobbyists on this specific issue so far, for certain.
Second, the real criticism the tribes have the cardrooms on sports gambling, is all about the real estate. The cardrooms, which the larger ones are almost exclusively in metropolitan regions, the real estate favors the cardrooms.
With any debut of sport betting, it is possible that the path will replicate what other jurisdictions have done before: roll out the product as land-based only to get started. This is concerning to the tribes, but perhaps they have no reason to worry about Let us take the man or woman who lives in West LA, would he prefer to drive 20-30 minutes to Hollywood Park (or a little longer to Gardena or the Bicycle Casino in Bell Gardens) or at least double that time to San Manuel, Pechanga or Chumash to make a bet?
This is not really firm the tribes are getting anyway, and you are almost certainly losing business due to it. Very similar to this dining table games issue, in my view.
What is the plan?
Third, it’s fairly clear the sportsbooks don’t have a strategy for California, at least however. Exhibit A are the first ill-advised ballot proposition, which effectively killed any chance of getting the matter to the voters in 2018, and certainly did not help matters for 2020 and possibly beyond.
Some European operators are online just; the idea of performing retail (walkup, traditional) mortifies some of them. However, they are also natural partners for the cardrooms, as in any legislation that goes through, the cardrooms likely would not be able to accept bets themselves, and could be consigned to charging to their operator-tenant.
Thus, some of the delay in the procedure is technology-driven, or the inability of some modern online operators to operate a”traditional” sportsbook. However, some operators have walkup books in Nevada, the united kingdom, along with other authorities and can certainly use their experience to a competitive advantage when and if California opens to business.
Ultimately, and most importantly in my opinion, unlike the battle to receive online poker legalized, there is more than enough cash to go around. Pretax earnings for a mature California market, retail books simply, was estimated to approach $1 billion, or roughly 40 times what online poker was estimated to earn.
In a ten percent tax rate, which will be a reasonable one for all parties involved, taxation revenue could approach $100 million.
Suggestion box
Though the legislature has traditionally deferred to the stakeholders to hammer out their own deal and contact these, perhaps its time for the legislature to legislate more aggressively rather than defer, because of the quantity of potential tax revenue involved.
As stated initially, the real stakeholders in this are the people of the State of California, and as such they are owed a duty by the people who represent them in Sacramento to find this issue to ballot as economically as possible. Especially as there’ll be layers within this, because of the inherent previous disputes, the legislature will be well advised to be much more proactive this time around.

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