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Tribes in California have been given a 90-day extension to get enough public support for sports betting to be included on the 2022 ballot. This follows attempts to get the vertical added to this November’s one, which ultimately fell short.

997,139 valid signatures were required before June 21st to move forward with the possibility of amending the state constitution to legalize sports betting. However, counties needed to receive the initial list of signatures by April 21st.

Tribes were less than 30,000 signatures away from reaching their target in mid-March, before the COVID-19 pandemic ground their momentum to an abrupt halt. 

Had the number of signatures been achieved by the original date, it would have been added to the ballot for this year’s election in November. 

How did the pandemic sabotage original efforts to add California sports betting to this year’s ballot?

18 California-based Native American tribes put forward the California Sports Wagering Regulation and Unlawful Gambling Enforcement Act. This would enable sports betting to be offered at tribal casinos and racetracks, with gross gaming revenue (GGR) taxed at 10%. Online sports betting would not be permitted, while commercial operators would also be shut out of the state’s market. 

Signatures were only allowed to be collected in person, which became impossible due to the safety measures that came into place. This was first hindered through individual counties implementing their own emergency laws, before the entire state effectively shut down. 

Even after measures began to lift, signature collection was still affected due to some businesses remaining closed and public gatherings being limited. 

Had enough support been received and Californian residents chose to say yes to sports betting later this year, the vertical could have been introduced in 2021

2022 a more reasonable timescale to gain full support 

Prior to the pandemic gripping the state, tribes had acquired 971,373 of the required signatures. 

California entered ‘stage 2’ of its reopening plan on May 8th. According to the Superior Court of California (Sacramento District), tribes gathered signatures at just 10% of the rate they had done prior to the outbreak. And while this would have got them over the line in time, the verification process would have seen some signatures removed and support fall short. 

Because of the pandemic and a slower rate in signature collections, tribes had hoped to show that they had enough support by July 20th. This would have been 180 days after the petition was initially launched and was done with the aim of still getting onto the November 2020 ballot. 

Due to the low rate of signatures after the state reopening, getting enough support in time – following the verification process – would have been challenging. So instead, a 90-day extension was granted to give sports betting in California a chance of appearing on the November 2022 ballot. 

What next?

Tribes might still have their work cut out. Last Wednesday, some state restrictions were reintroduced following a jump in coronavirus cases. 

The court will have a decision on whether or not ongoing social distancing measures hinder the signature collection process further, leading to another extension being necessary. 

Judge James P. Arguelles spoke about the state’s ongoing efforts to bring sports betting to California. His words were as follows. 

“Between March 19th 2020 and May 7th 2020, petitioners were virtually if not literally barred from collecting any signatures to support their initiative.

“Between May 7th and June 18th, petitioners gathered signatures at approximately 10% their prior rate. The court finds that the rate reduction is the result of government restrictions responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“To make petitioners whole, the court will order a further extension equal to 90% of the same time period, or 35 additional days.”

If sports betting makes the 2022 ballot and Californian residents vote in favor of legalizing the vertical, the earliest the market could go live is 2023. 

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