Betting on the ballot: Voters could decide future of sports betting in California

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) -- A year from now, Californians may be voting on whether to have legalized sports betting available in casinos, card rooms, and maybe even in stadiums and arenas across the state.

On the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling back in May of 2018, a constitutional amendment has recently been introduced for California voters to pave the way for legalized sports betting.

But there is a lot to sort out between now and the November elections.

The California Gaming Association estimates about $10 billion in illegal sports bets are made each year in California alone.

“People are gonna do it no matter what,” Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, told FOX40. “They're already doing it.”

Dodd and Assemblyman Adam Gray wrote the constitutional amendment to legalize sports betting in the state.

“We want to get an initiative on the ballot that the voters can understand, that's easy to understand and perhaps in the process maybe bring all the gambling institutions -- card rooms, horse racing, tribal casinos -- all together,” Dodd said.

Any plan to legalize sports wagering will require the cooperation of those three stakeholders and, ultimately, the approval of California voters. Each seems to agree that making sports wagering legal would give bettors safer and better options, as well as allowing the state to collect an estimated $200 million in taxes and fees.

“It would bring tax revenue back into communities. This is tax revenue that is going to Nevada or being lost because of illegal gaming,” CGA Executive Director Joe Patterson said. “So, there are huge benefits to legalizing it and regulating it here for local communities that already offer gaming opportunities.”

So far, there is no organized opposition to legalizing sports gambling in California, but the devil may be in the details.

“Where to do it is a big deal,” Dodd said.

Everyone seemingly wants a piece of the action, but the battle could come down to the state's 66 card rooms and 68 tribal casinos.

The tribes have been in an ongoing dispute with state regulators and card rooms and don't want any more competition. Steve Stallings, chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, declined FOX40's request for an interview.

Recently, however, Stallings told the San Francisco Chronicle that, “The tribes understand the industry and are positive about growth and expansion, but not expansion that would jeopardize tribes’ exclusivity (to offer casino games) or things we do now. We told the legislators we will discuss it, but we want details on tax rates, who would be eligible, how it would operate.”

“Once the stakeholders come together and we can start those discussions then really we'll be able to analyze the details on the specific proposal that ends up coming forward,” Patterson said.

Professional sports leagues now have dropped their cautious stance on sports wagering and have started to weigh in.

“If sports betting is going to happen, it's done in a way that makes sure our fans are safe and that fans are never going to question that the result of a game is coming from anything other than the honest efforts of the people who are participating,” Dan Spillane, the NBA’s assistant general counsel, told FOX40.

The NBA already has partnerships in place with both MGM and William Hill, one of this country's leading sportsbook operators.

“I think we see benefits in legal betting from the standpoint of shifting consumers from off-shore, illegal markets where there is no transparency, there's no visibility into the amount that is bet on our games, types of bets and things like that. As opposed to new, legal markets where betting can be monitored, regulated, consumers can be protected,” Spillane said.

Part of that visibility could mean sportsbooks available at arenas and ballparks. It's already happening in Washington D.C. during NBA and NHL games at Capital One Arena. Last season, the Sacramento Kings debuted a gaming lounge at the Golden 1 Center where fans can bet with credits to win prizes.

The Kings say the goal is to educate fans.

“I think betting gives fans another way to interact with the game, to interact with the team. I think it's proven that fans that do do that, they are much more engaged with what is happening on the court and what is happening with the team,” Kings President of Business Development John Rinehart said.

Sen. Dodd and Asm. Gray have until the middle of June to get their constitutional amendment out of the senate and into the assembly for a vote where it will require a two-thirds majority to end up on the November ballot for 2020.

The governor's signature will not be required.

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