Sports betting in California dead…for now?

The potential for sports betting to come to California in the immediate future has grown slimmer by the week recently, with all the signs pointing to a heavy defeat for measures being put to the public in next month’s vote. And, at a recent gathering on the fringes of the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas, representatives of some leading betting companies admitted as much. With time running out to overturn those poor polling numbers, this could be read as an admission of defeat.

However, the deeper reading of the situation could yet be that defeat for sports betting as an idea is a temporary state. Amy Howe and Jason Robins, CEOs of FanDuel and DraftKings respectively, were in agreement that the industry would continue looking for a way to get a consensus on sports betting. One that, in their words, would have agreement from all parties, including the industry, government, tribes and customers alike. So while the measures proposed in Propositions 26 and 27 will not pass, the idea is that something else will.

It’s natural that the sports betting industry would consider this to be a priority. California is a huge potential market which, for the time being, the major sportsbooks cannot tap into. It’s also considered something of a lodestar for other states, in that if California passes sports betting, those states will also make moves to legalize it. So not only will the vote in November, seemingly inevitably, push back the date when legal sports betting comes to the Golden State. It will also delay movement elsewhere.

The other major player in this story, the tribal leaderships in California, was less enamored with the idea of a continued search to find the sweet spot where a bill could be passed or a proposition that commands broad support put to the vote. Tribal leaders held their own breakout session in the aftermath of Howe and Robins’ event, at which they expressed the continuing intention to keep the sportsbooks at arms’ length.

Reading between the lines, the message coming from tribal leaders is that there may, sometime in the future, be a path to sports betting in California, even with online provision, but that the sportsbooks would need to accept a junior role in the coalition that delivered it. Specifically, Victor Rocha, editor of an influential tribal website and conference chair on the Indian Gaming Association, stated that the betting companies would only have a role as technology providers, and that any agreement in future would need to be on the tribes’ terms.

It’s clear that the story on sports betting in California is far from over, but a lot of work remains necessary before it can be considered resolved.

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