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Online gambling proposal confirmed for California’s November ballot


A measure to permit online gambling in California – backed by a number of commercial operators but opposed by many tribes in the state – has been confirmed for November’s ballot.

The Secretary of State in the US’s most populous state announced on Monday that the proposed law, which is backed by major gaming groups such as BetMGM, has attracted around 1.1 million valid signatures – well above the 997,000 required to make the ballot.

As a result, voters will have the opportunity to determine whether it will become law.

The measure, which would legalise online and mobile betting and gambling, is titled the California Legalize Sports Betting and Revenue for Homelessness Prevention Fund Initiative (2022), as 85% of tax proceeds will go towards reducing homelessness.

However, the confirmation it has qualified for the ballot was met with opposition from tribal gaming groups, whose own Tribal Sports Wagering Act initiative that would legalize sports betting at limited locations, including tribal casinos, has already been accepted for November’s poll.

The Coalition to Stop the Corporate Online Gambling Proposition – made up of tribes, public safety, business and social justice leaders and advocates for the homeless – reiterated its strong opposition to the corporate bill and vowed to defeat it.

“The Corporate Online Gambling Proposition would legalize online and mobile sports gambling – turning virtually every cell phone, laptop, tablet and gaming console into a gambling device, increasing the risks of underage and problem gambling,” said tribal chairman Cody Martinez, of the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation.

“We will run a vigorous campaign against this measure and are confident the voters will see through the deceptive promises being made by these out-of-state gambling corporations.”

The corporate betting initiative reported over $100m in contributions as of 31 March 2022, with its top three donors include BetMGM and the owners of FanDuel and DraftKings. Backers also include Bally’s Interactive, Fanatics, Penn National Gaming and WynnBet. Opponents have raised $65.6m to campaign against the bill.

Online sports betting would be open to “qualified gaming entities” and tribal operators, which may partner with online platform providers. Tribal operators and online platform providers must pay a $10m license fee each, while “qualified gaming entities” must pay $100m.

The proposed law would create the Division of Online Sports Betting Control within the Department of Justice. The initiative would give the division authority to regulate the online sports betting industry and investigate illegal sports betting activities. The amendment would take effect on 1 January 1 2023.

Nathan Click, a spokesman for the commercial campaign, said: “Our measure is the only one that would guarantee hundreds of millions each year in solutions to homelessness and mental health support. We have found Californians are enthusiastic about it and the housing and mental health solutions it would provide the state.”

The campaign has received support from the mayors of Fresno, Long Beach, Oakland, and Sacramento.

Tamera Kohler, chief executive officer of the Regional Task Force on Homelessness for the San Diego Area, said: “It would provide an ongoing funding source of hundreds of millions of dollars each year to fight homelessness and provide mental health services to those most in need. We are excited to partner with the coalition to pass this important measure in November 2022.”

The tribal coalition claims that polling shows the commercial-backed measure is “very under water with voters” with opposition at 65% and support at 25% according to its polling. Both the commercial and tribal proposals will be among seven items on California’s ballot, with voters going to the polls on 8 November.

Tribal chairman Kenneth Kahn, of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, said: “We’re confident voters will support the Tribal Sports Wagering Act, which will allow in-person sports betting at highly regulated tribal casinos and licensed horse racing tracks in California. Our measure represents a responsible, incremental approach to allowing sports wagering in California without the risks of opening up every connected device to online gambling.”

The California Sports Wagering Regulation and Unlawful Gambling Enforcement Act, which is backed by 18 tribal groups, would amend the state constitution to legalize sports betting at limited locations, including Indian gaming casinos and licensed racetracks, and set a 10% gross revenue tax on licensees. Only in-person wagering would be permitted under the Act, and limited to those aged 21 and above.

Taxes raised through the 10% levy on sports betting revenue would be deposited in the California Sports Wagering Fund, which is created through the Act. From the state’s 2022-23 fiscal year, 15% of money deposited in the fund would be allocated to the Department of Health for the research and treatment of problem gambling and mental health.