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The odds improved Tuesday that California voters will have their say on legalizing sports betting on the November 2020 ballot.

A proposal from state Sen. Bill Dodd (D-Napa) and Assemblymember Adam Gray (D-Merced) to generate hundreds of millions of dollars with legalized sports betting cleared a key committee Tuesday.

Portrait of Adam Gray

“Legalized sports wagering will generate hundreds of millions of dollars for vital services in our most vulnerable communities.” — Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced

“The legalization of sports wagering gives California an opportunity to provide much-needed revenue to our state during tough economic times,” Sen. Dodd said. “Because sports betting will continue to occur regardless of its legality. A vote for my bill is a vote to regulate the industry, to protect consumers, and to ensure California gets its fair share. I’ll be working with stakeholders as we continue to refine and advance the measure through the legislative process.”

Said Gray: “Illegal sports wagering goes on every day unregulated and untaxed in California. Legalized sports wagering will generate hundreds of millions of dollars for vital services in our most vulnerable communities.”

Betting at Racetracks, Via Mobile Devices

Under the proposal, tribal casinos and the state’s major racetracks would be authorized to operate sports wagering at their facilities and via mobile devices, with strict third-party age and identity verification. Estimates put illegal sports wagering in the United States at $150 billion a year. The inclusion of mobile wagering is essential to convert a substantial percentage of the illegal market and ensure the state realizes meaningful revenue increases.

The legislation would require safeguards to verify gamblers’ ages and identities, and technology would be used to make sure that mobile gambling devices are physically within California’s borders.

The constitutional amendment introduced by Sen. Dodd and Assemblyman Gray would require statewide voter approval before sports wagering is allowed.

The proposal, like others before it, is controversial in part because of competition between gambling interests including card rooms, which offer table games like blackjack and poker.

Experts say the California Sports Wagering and Consumer Protection Act would generate $500 million to $700 million in a mature market with at least $200 million expected in the first year. Revenue generated from legalization could support public education, infrastructure, and other needs when COVID-19 is shrinking revenues to state and local governments.

Supreme Court Lifted Ban on Sports Betting

In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the federal ban on sports betting, permitting states to authorize the practice. Twenty-two states have legalized sports wagering, and others, like California, are considering legislation.

The constitutional amendment introduced by Sen. Dodd and Assemblyman Gray would require statewide voter approval before sports wagering is allowed.

The bill, which is supported by local governments and sports leagues, passed the Senate Governmental Organization Committee on Tuesday. The legislation now moves next to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Dodd and Gray hope to put the measure to voters on the November ballot. To reach the ballot, two-thirds of state lawmakers would have to give their blessing.

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