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California sports betting initiative fizzles out

California is one of the great untapped sports betting markets in America, and it’s going to stay untapped for the foreseeable future.
Late last week, the deadline for getting a sports betting bill on the Golden State’s 2020 ballot passed by, leaving Cali sports betting enthusiasts behind. The reason for the failure of the sports betting initiative lays in the hands of a disorganized petition effort, and a lack of enthusiasm for sports betting from California’s powerful tribal gaming interests.
On the petition side of the story lies a group called Californians for Sports Betting. According to a report on, the group failed to gather even a single signature in an effort that would have required nearly 700,000 signatures. What was the problem? The group’s consultant Russell Lowrey said, “We never advanced to get a single signature. It started a conversation in California gaming on what is the right path forward, and those conversations will continue until they figure out the puzzle.”
The “right path forward” for California Indian tribes, who basically control the Cali gaming industry, does not include sports betting. And, for that reason, efforts to add sports betting into the Golden State’s gambling mix will likely continue to fail.
As is so often the case in California, the tribal gaming concerns are reluctant to expand their markets in any way because they’re uninterested in competition. As it stands today, the tribes would have no problem with sports betting, if they were the only ones who could offer it up. But the proposed ballot initiative would have put sports betting in cards rooms and other non-Indian outlets, and that’s not something they’re interested in seeing.
There is a possibility that the State Legislature could take up a sports betting bill on its own, but given past efforts to legalize online poker in the state, that effort seems unlikely to take off with tribal support.
For now, California will remain an untapped market for the sports betting business.