Marty Derbyshire

The California Legislature’s Legislative Analyst’s Office says Californians for Sports Betting are trying to do more than just bring legal sports betting to the Golden State.

Californians for Sports Betting is a group led by political consultant Russell Lowery. It has the green light from the Office of the Attorney General to collect the 585,407 signatures it needs to get a referendum for a proposed constitutional amendment legalizing sports betting on the November 2020 election ballot.

However, the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office performed a review of the group’s initiative and found it includes several other gambling expansion measures. One plan is particularly contentious. More on that in a minute.

In fact, in an Aug. 1 letter to Attorney General Xavier Becerra outlining the findings from the review, soon-to-be-retiring Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor wrote that the initiative seeks to change California gambling in several ways.

These changes include:

  • Authorizing sports wagering at cardrooms, horse racing facilities, and tribal casinos
  • Allowing cardrooms to spread house-banked games like blackjack
  • Authorizing tribal casinos to offer roulette and craps, provided the the games are added to tribal-state compacts

House-banked games controversy

Of course, the issue of house-banked games at California cardrooms is a hotly contested one already. Tribal casinos have argued for years that allowing house-banked games at California cardrooms infringes upon the tribes’ exclusive rights to host casino gambling in the state.

Much to the chagrin of the tribes, several cardrooms have installed a work-around, including having prop-players bank the games.

Operators of many of the state’s 63 tribal casinos are open to the idea of legal sports betting in California. However, they stand opposed to the constitutional amendment proposed by Californians for Sports Betting. They are against it specifically because it will increase the type of gambling legally allowed at commercial cardrooms.

In fact, Mark Macarro, chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, told the Los Angeles Times they want nothing to do with it:

“This is not in keeping with California’s longstanding policy of limited gaming, and we will vigorously oppose this measure.”

Attaching online poker to sports betting

Some California lawmakers have expressed an interest in attaching online poker to sports betting in an effort to get legislation on both gambling expansion initiatives passed together.

Online poker legislation has stalled in the past because of a battle between the same stakeholders over operator suitability. This includes specifically how to handle online poker operators who previously accepted US customers after the federal government passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006.

The Californians for Sports Betting proposal creates another front in the war between tribal casinos and commercial cardrooms. Therefore, it’s unlikely online poker ever gets attached to it.

Of course, there’s still hope for a marriage between the two issues. It lies in Assemblyman Adam Gray’s proposed constitutional amendment to legalize sports betting in California from 2017.

Gray failed to get a referendum on the Nov. 6 election ballot. However, he’ll have another chance for November 2020.

There’s no reason online poker can’t attach itself here, particularly since house-banked games, roulette, and craps won’t be there to further muddy the waters.

However, the legalization path for sports betting, online poker, or both, will still require some rather heavy lifting.  Someone will need to get tribal casinos and commercial cardrooms to finally come together. That’s something the state hasn’t been able to do on any issue so far.

Marty Derbyshire
Marty Derbyshire - Martin Derbyshire is a veteran of the world of poker and gambling, having worked as a reporter, producer, and editor in the industry for more than a decade. He has traveled the globe interviewing high-profile personalities and contributes to a number of publications, including USPoker.com, PlayCA.com, and PlayNJ.com.