Get The Popcorn Ready, California – Lawsuits Over Sports Betting Ballot Measures Have Begun

Written By Derek Helling on December 30, 2021

It isn’t 2022 yet but disparate gambling interests in the Golden State are wasting no time in taking their fight to control gambling expansion to where it was likely to be decided anyway; the state’s courts. The first California sports betting lawsuit is another chapter in the state’s oldest gaming rivalry; cardrooms vs. tribal casinos.

This complaint asks the court to invalidate a potential constitutional amendment the state’s tribal casino operators have already put on the ballot for November. It’s also likely to be just the first of many such pieces of litigation.

First California sports betting lawsuit hits the docket

On Dec. 21, two CA cardrooms filed Hollywood Park Casino Company v. Weber. The defendant is the CA Secretary of State, Shirley Weber. The lawsuit’s chief argument is that Weber’s certification of the ballot measure is unconstitutional.

To make that point, the complaint cites CA law which states that ballot measures deal with just one subject. The current ballot measure, the California Sports Wagering Regulation and Unlawful Gambling Enforcement Act, not only would authorize in-person wagering at tribal casinos in CA but also include new rules around dice and roulette.

The Agua Caliente, Barona, Pechanga, and Yocha Dehe Indigenous peoples groups all back the current ballot measure. If the court finds it unconstitutional, the tribal groups could adjust it and try to gather enough signatures to get it on the ballot again.

However, they’re already working on its replacement. The Age-Verified Tribal Online and In-Person Sports Wagering & Homelessness Solutions Act does not yet have Weber’s approval to appear on the ballot, but it does have the backing of tribal casino operators in the state.

Thus, should the cardrooms prevail in this matter, it might not matter. This could just be the very start of suits and countersuits to decide which parties take part in a legal framework for CA sports betting, too. The stakes couldn’t be higher.

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California is a huge prize for gambling companies

With a population of almost 40 million and a long list of sports franchises in the state, the potential in CA is massive. Some estimates have posited that the value of the legal sports betting industry in CA could be $2.5 billion annually.

The tribal casinos would prefer to control that wealth. That would include cutting the cardrooms out of it altogether. The Age-Verified act would allow for online wagering. It would be tethered to tribal casinos in CA, though.

Two other proposed amendments have the backing of cardrooms. Neither has yet gotten Weber’s approval. Should they receive that, tribal casino operators might be able to find ways to challenge them in state courts.

Thus could begin a cavalcade of litigation over these propositions that might run all the way up to November. In fact, even after the voting happens, parties who lose out might try challenges to stop the prevailing measures from taking effect.

With billions at stake, expect cardrooms, sportsbooks, and tribal casinos to exhaust all options. Of course, the most ironic situation would be if after all the legal wrangling, voters say no to all the measures and sports betting remains illegal in CA. That would seem a Hollywood-style ending to this drama that’s just begun.

Photo by Ekaterina Pokrovsky / Shutterstock
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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a lead writer for PlayUSA and the manager of BetHer. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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