Legal sports betting in California is long overdue. The state legislature has never really taken the measure up, though some in Sacramento have tried. So of course multiple measures appear to be headed to the November ballot, because California likes to make things as difficult to do as possible.
I've tried to figure out what's going on, but the issue I've run into is that there are only two types of people writing about this: people who are experts on ballot measures (and know little to nothing about sports, and betting on sports) and pro sports gambler types (who know even less about ballot measures than experts on ballot measures know about sports).
So I'm going to try and be the voice of the sports fan who knows a bit about ballot measures. I know less about ballot measures than I know about sports, but as a former sports and news reporter I'm ahead of the game, having covered several elections in my time.
I'd imagine you're a bit like me in this respect: I live in California, I like sports, and I'd like to be able to wager legally on them. That's the perspective I'm coming from here. I have no dog in the fight except that I'd like it to be fricking legal already and nobody has explained the different measures in any way that makes sense to me. I've been doing some research recently, and here's what I've found out so far.
1) On the November ballot, no matter how many propositions there are, it's not an either/or thing
I want to make this perfectly clear from the jump: There could be four measures on the ballot legalizing sports gambling, there could be 40 (there won't) or there could be two (most likely). A vote for one of them does not mean a vote against the other. You can vote for all of them!
I'm making this very clear right now: I'm going to vote yes on all of them. I'm for any form of legal sports gambling in California. I may have certain personal preferences, but overall: I'm for it. If the only measure that passes means I have to drive three hours and can only place a bet on teams with an "L" in their name and their mascot has to be a bird and I have to wear snowshoes to do it, I'm STILL going to vote yes.
If all measures pass, then the one getting the most votes would be the winner, unless (somehow) it is ruled that they don't conflict with each other. And you'd expect that the loser would take it to court to argue whichever side would let their measure exist.
So, simply, my ultimate take is: yes. That said, let's move on...
2) There is currently only one measure on the ballot.
There could have been up to four choices to vote on, but as of right now (end of May) there is only one. According to Ballotpedia, that is the tribal casino measure which would only allow in-person wagering at tribal casinos and certain horse-racing tracks. It would prohibit gambling on high school sports (I mean, duh) and events with a California college team. So it would be fine to bet on any college football playoff games for the forseeable future (see, the joke there is that the Pac-12 is bad, and.... oh, never mind).
The key omission from this measure, as far as I'm concerned, is the lack of a gambling app. Every other state that has legalized sports gambling has an app component (and in plenty of cases, no in-person option at all). Remember, I'm just a sports fan who wants to bet on the game. If I have to drive an hour or more to make one bet, I'm probably not going to do that. A map of the current tribal casinos in California shows that there is no "close" tribal casino to the two biggest metro areas in the state, Los Angeles and San Francisco/San Jose.
However, this is where the "certain horse-racing tracks" provision comes in. Those four tracks are Santa Anita and Los Alamitos in the LA area, and Golden Gate Fields in Berkeley, as well as Del Mar in San Diego. That at least brings it to the metro areas, but it's still not going to be an every-day excursion for your average sports fan like me.
2) The other measure that is likely to make the ballot is app-only
If you have watched a game on teevee recently, you have probably seen the anti-app commercial, sponsored by the tribal casino ballot backers. Of course, now you know that they are arguing against something that's not even on the ballot yet. It will likely be on the ballot by the deadline (June 30th), but right now it's like Detroit Lions fans making Super Bowl plans. You can talk about it all you want, but it might be better to wait until you actually know it's going to happen.
Still, unlike the Lions in the Super Bowl, this is going to happen this year. Which is why the opposition has already started the anti-ads, because for your Average Joe gambler like me, an app is far more easier than driving an hour each way, especially if I just want to bet on one thing. It's not that hard to figure out.
Since it's not on the ballot yet, I just want to point out two things that seem curious to me so far about it. First, check this out.
"Such wagering may be offered only by federally recognized Indian tribes and eligible businesses that contract with them."
That's right.... it's still run by the tribes! And not only that, it's not just one app for the whole state. It basically allows any tribe to run a sports wagering website or app.
Which seems.... rather messy. And since it doesn't specify federal tribes based in California, it does appear to open the new industry to any tribe in America. (Again, this is just what I'm gathering from reading the thing. There could be some legalese in there I'm not picking up).
Which seems.... even messier.
There's also a provision in this measure that says it *doesn't* conflict with any in-person wagering, which would allow both to co-exist (as mentioned above, I'm sure there will be no lawsuits as a result if both pass, because this doesn't seem the type of thing that would involve zillions of lawsuits at all).
3) Wait, what about all the other measures?
Well, it appears that there was going to be a measure backed by the tribes that would allow online wagering, but that's not going to happen in November. It appears they are going to wait on that until 2024.
And then the card rooms (which I haven't even gotten to yet) were going to have a measure of their own to allow card room wagering, but that didn't get enough signatures to even have a hope of qualifying.
So that's where we are before Memorial Day.... pretty sure there will be more twists and turns before we get to November....
I'd bet on it.