Marty Derbyshire

All hope that online poker could ride the coattails of sports betting legislation in California next year have been completely dashed.

In fact, it now appears sports betting itself won’t be coming to the Golden Sate until at least 2021. Even then, there are no guarantees online poker will come attached.

The issue is that legalizing sports betting requires a change to the state’s constitution. In California, a constitutional amendment needs two thirds of each legislative chamber to back it. Plus, voters must agree to the idea on a statewide ballot.

A constitutional amendment on sports betting

In 2017, Assemblyman Adam Gray introduced a constitutional amendment to legalize sports betting in California pending a change in federal law.

That change came in May when the US Supreme Court declared the law behind a federal ban on sports betting unconstitutional. Since then, Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, and West Virginia have all launched legal sports betting. Plus, several other states are lining up to do the same.

Back in California, Assemblyman Gray failed to find the votes needed to send his constitutional amendment to referendum before the Supreme Court decision, nor could he find them after the decision was rendered and prior to the June 28 deadline for constitutional amendments to be included on the Nov. 6 election ballot.

Now, Gray may very well secure the votes he needs in 2019. However, that would mean getting the constitutional amendment on the November 2020 election ballot. Even if the issue receives overwhelming voter support, legal sports betting isn’t likely to come to California before the next calendar year. That’s 2021.

A new hope

There is another hope for sports betting in California. Voters can get a constitutional amendment on the ballot themselves.

In fact, a group called Californians for Sports Betting has submitted paperwork to the Attorney General’s Office to do just that.

That office has already approved the description and title of the proposed amendment. Now, Californians for Sports Betting needs to get the signatures of 585,407 registered voters for the referendum to go ahead.

They’ve got until February 2019 to do it. But even if they do, the constitutional amendment would go on the November 2020 election ballot, once again setting up the same legal sports betting in 2021 scenario.

There’s another hurdle on this avenue too. Even if the voters say yes, proponents still need two thirds of the California State Legislature to approve it. That’s no easy task considering the powerful gaming lobby.

The same old fight

Native American tribes trying to protect their exclusive casino gaming rights will undoubtedly push lawmakers in one direction. Plus, commercial cardrooms want to get their hands into any type of gambling expansion. They’ll quite possibly push in the other.

It’s shaping up to be a very familiar battle, the same one that has held up online poker legislation in California for the past decade.

Earlier this year, longtime legal online poker advocate Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer sadly admitted California lawmakers would not be considering online poker legislation for the first time in a decade. This battle was one of the reasons why.

Another is the hope lawmakers could tie online poker together with sports betting and legalize both next year.

This could still happen. However, it’s apparent this long road doesn’t really end until at least 2021.

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,, and