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California tribes granted extension on sports betting


California tribes will have 90 more days to gather enough signatures to get their sports betting measure on the ballot in 2022 after a court granted an extension to the deadline by which it must secure sufficient public support.

The California Sports Wagering Regulation and Unlawful Gambling Enforcement Act – put forward by a coalition of 18 California-based Native American tribes – would amend the state constitution to legalize sports betting at locations including tribal casinos and licensed racetracks, with a 10% GGR tax.

The measure needed to receive 997,139 valid signatures by 21 June in order to appear on the November 2020 ballot, but due to time taken by the signature verification process, the initial list of signatures needed to be submitted to counties by 21 April.

By mid-March, the measure appeared well on its way to securing enough signatures, having received 971,373 signatures. However, individual counties, and later the whole state, soon began to issue shelter-in-place orders in an effort to limit the spread of novel coronavirus (Covid-19). 

As signatures may only be gathered in person, these orders drastically limited the tribes’ efforts to collect signatures. Although these orders were lifted, the continued closures of many businesses and limits on public gatherings meant signature collection remained low.

The Superior Court of California, Sacremento District noted that, after California moved to “stage 2” of its reopening plan on 8 May, the tribes collected signatures at a rate of roughly 10% of the signature collection before the outbreak. While this would mean the tribes exceeded 997,139 signatures, it would be unlikely to be enough when signatures that do not pass the county’s verification process are removed.

As a result, the tribes hoped to submit signatures by 20 July – 180 days after the petition was launched – to appear on the November 2022 ballot. However, it said this too appeared unlikely given the low rates of signature-gathering since reopening. As a result, they called for a 90-day extension to the signature-collecting process for the November 2022 ballot.

The judge, James P. Arguelles, noted a similar case in Nevada where an extension had been granted, as well as the fact that the 180-day limit on signature gathering was not part of the state constitution.

Arguelles added it was clear that an extension made sense for the 49 days in which a full shelter-in-place order was in effect, but the question of whether a longer extension should be granted was less obvious.

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

Arguelles ultimately chose to grant the tribes a slightly shorter extension of 12 weeks, using the rate of signature gathering during the reopening phase to determine its length.

“Between May 7 and June 18, petitioners gathered signatures at approximately 10 percent their prior rate,” Arguelles said. “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 percent of the same time period, or 35 additional days.”

Arguelles added that a further extension based on the continued impact of government orders could not be granted as this impact remains “speculative”.

In January, the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) determined that the state could generate “tens of millions” in new revenue under the ballot measure, but face higher regulatory and enforcement costs.

The measure is the only currently active attempt to legalize sports betting in California, after Assemblyman Bill Dodd withdrew his bill for regulated sports wagering.

Dodd’s proposal would have also allowed only racetracks and tribal gaming facilities to offer sports wagering, but would also have stipulated that card rooms offering player-dealer games does not interfere with tribes’ monopoly on house-banked games.