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Future of CA betting bill in question as hearing delayed


California residents will have to wait further for an update on the status of legal sports betting in  the state, as the latest hearing on bill SCA 6 has been pushed back to June 23.

SCA 6 – proposed by Bill Dodd – sets out plans to allow for a statewide referendum on the sports betting, which would have to be backed by two-thirds of voters before it could come into law.

The bill was approved by the California Senate Committee on Government Organization on 3 June, but on 9 June, it was placed on the California legislature’s suspense file as it had a fiscal impact of more than $50,000. 

Bills placed on the suspense file face a hearing from the Appropriations Committee after the state budget is announced. At this hearing, the Appropriations Committee selects the bills that will be taken off the file and move forward, while the remaining bills die. This hearing and the votes on each bill are not public.

Initially, the suspense hearing was scheduled for today (June 18), but this hearing has been canceled. A new date for this hearing has been set for June 23, but the bill must pass through the legislature by June 25 if the referendum is to appear on November’s ballot.

The chances of meeting this deadline will be harmed by the fact that The California Assembly is set to take its summer recess tomorrow (19 June).

Under Dodd’s bill, only tribal casinos and racetracks may operate legal betting, with card rooms excluded.

Sports betting operators would be able to offer online betting, which would be subject to a 15% gross revenue tax, and retail betting, taxed at 10%. Online operators would also pay an initial $5m license fee and annual renewal fee of $1m. Licensees may operate one online “skin”.

In addition, the bill also aims to amend the California constitution to recognize the authority of card rooms’ right to offer ‘player-dealer’ games. These are slightly modified versions of house-banked games in which a player employed by the venue collects losses and rake, as well as paying out winnings. 

This concession has been unpopular with tribal casino operators, however, who hold a monopoly on offering house-banked games in the state. The California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA) arguing the provision allows for “a massive expansion of games” offered by the cardrooms, that “fundamentally changes the legal structure of California’s peer-to-peer gaming industry”.

California tribal casinos have also proposed their own constitutional amendment on sports betting. A group of 18 tribes were in the process of gathering signatures to get the amendment on the November ballot, before the signature-gathering process was interrupted by the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

The measure would require 997,139 signatures, which the tribes said they were on course to achieve before the virus hit. According to media reports in California, the tribes have launched a lawsuit against the state, seeking a 90-day extension for further signature-gathering.