Marty Derbyshire sports betting online poker

Is legal sports betting coming to California, and will it bring online poker with it?

These questions and more arose last week when the Supreme Court of the United States paved the way for all 50 states to legalize sports betting.

The court’s decision upheld a 2014 New Jersey law allowing sports betting in casinos and racetracks. Plus, it struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). PASPA made sports betting illegal pretty much everywhere outside Nevada in 1992.┬áLimited sports wagering in Delaware, Montana, and Oregon had also been exempt from the law.

In the court’s written decision, Justice Samuel Alito said PASPA infringed upon state sovereignty and was therefore unconstitutional. Justice Alito said states should be able to make a choice when it comes to sports gambling.

In addition to New Jersey, several states have already made that choice. They passed legislation over the past year that would institute legal sports betting in the event of a change in federal law.

With that change taking place last week, states including New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey are among those now putting together the regulatory framework for legal sports betting inside their borders.

A constitutional amendment on sports betting

California is not among them.

Assemblyman Adam Gray introduced a constitutional amendment to allow sports betting in California last year. He estimates legal sports betting in California could generate as much as $200 million in tax revenue annually.

However, the issue has yet to go to the committee stage. Of course, as a constitutional amendment, it would need two-thirds majority approval by both branches of the legislature.

Plus, it would need Gov. Jerry Brown‘s signature before California voters would have the chance to decide if legal sports betting is something they want.

The deadline for getting the amendment on the ballot in 2018 will fall in June. With no state elections scheduled for 2019, if it fails to pass before next month’s deadline, California voters will not have the chance to weigh in on the issue until at least 2020.

Even if it passes quickly and the people of California vote overwhelmingly in favor of legal sports betting in the state, sportsbooks won’t exactly open up overnight.

California stakeholders disagree

Once voters approve the amendment, the legislature would begin defining rules and regulations for California sports betting. It is a procedure that will likely be quite contentious.

Racetracks, card clubs, tribal casinos, and various online entities are all expected to want in the local sports betting market. As a result, a battle over who has the right to do so will surely ensue. Tribal casinos have a history of fighting for their exclusive right to traditional casino gambling. There’s little doubt they will argue sports betting falls into this category.

With similar stakeholders in play, it will likely mirror the battle over operator suitability that has held up online poker legislation in California for most of the past decade.

So far, getting local stakeholders to agree on any gambling expansion issue in California has proved impossible.

The marriage of sports betting and online poker

However, at least one California assemblyman and online poker advocate remains hopeful agreements can be reached. Plus, he thinks attaching the issues of online poker and sports gambling may help the state get there.

In February, Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer said he will not be introducing online poker legislation in 2018. It marked the first time in a decade California lawmakers haven’t had online poker on the agenda.

But at the same time, Jones-Sawyer said he is hopeful online poker could ride the coattails of sports betting legislation in the very near future.

With last week’s Supreme Court decision, the door is now open to legal sports gambling in California. It’s now just a matter of how long it will take to open up the market, whether lawmakers can agree to let online poker to come along for the ride, and if gambling industry stakeholders can finally agree on, well, anything.

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