Will California legalize online gambling in 2022?

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The US has seen a wave of online gambling legislation since the turn of the decade. States stretching from West Virginia (online casino and sports betting) to Oregon (sports betting only) have all started to allow wagers to be placed over the internet – and soon it will be the turn of the two of the biggest (New York and Florida).  

But what about here in the largest state of them all? When can we get a chance to place a wager on the Lakers? 

Well, Californian voters could give online gambling the green light in November 2022, if an eligible proposal garners enough signatures (1 million) to make it on to the ballot for the mid-terms.  

One initiative is already on the ballot. The tribal casinos want sports betting to be allowed only on their native lands and on licensed racetracks – and that online gambling should NOT be permitted.  

But two more groups have recently thrown their hats into the ring.  

Firstly, the recently formed California Cities Gaming Authority is now seeking the requisite signatures for an initiative that would see 26% of sports betting profits directed towards combating homelessness and protecting mental health. And who would be allowed to operate sports betting activities under this bill? 

“The Cities Gaming Initiative opens sports wagering to every entity licensed to conduct gaming in California including Indian tribes and to all professional sports teams seeking to conduct sports wagering directly or via the internet” according to spokesman Jimmy Gutierrez.  

Clearly, this would be a much more inclusive bill. It would open up the intriguing possibility of not just online gambling being permitted in the state of California. 

It would also see local sports franchises such as the Rams or LA Galaxy potentially running their own sportsbooks (although that looks like the kind of conflict of interest that PASPA was specifically set up to avoid).   

And at the end of August came news that there will be a third proposal bn                                                                                                           competing for signatures among the (presumably) ballot-tired Californian public.  

An unholy alliance between the nation’s three biggest online sportsbooks (BetMGM, DraftKings, and FanDuel) has come together to produce a proposal that – rather unsurprisingly – favors the interests of those who are already doing very well in the industry.  

In fact, the initiative specifically states that online wagering would be restricted to: 

“Any qualified gaming entity that already offers digital sports betting in at least 10 U.S. jurisdictions OR operates 12 casinos in the U.S. and has five live digital platforms in the U.S. could partner with a tribe.” 

That would leave a rather exclusive club of sportsbooks and would stop some of their upstart US and European rivals from ever entering the Californian market. 

This proposal also allows tribal casinos to run their own online sportsbooks but sees these tribes partnering with experienced back-end operators (presumably for a hefty fee) to run their own branded websites. 

And what’s in it for the state of California? The proposed bill would see 26% of revenue going towards homelessness and mental health causes, in a nod towards the California Cities Gaming Authority’s own proposal. 

As a side note, the trifecta of DraftKings, FanDuel, and BetMGM has simultaneously entered the race to offer sports betting to Florida residents and visitors, this time competing against the Seminole tribe – who thought they had signed a done deal with Gov. DeSantis.  

So far, then, there is one initiative on the ballot already, and two more competing to be listed by November 2022. 

The latest proposal from the gambling giants is a clever one – it seeks to assuage the interests of their two rivals on the ballot, while shutting out many of their competitors from the industry.  

Assuming it gets on the ballot, how will it perform with the voters? Will Californians see it as a symbol of corporate greed, and opt for the proposals of the Cities or the Indian tribes? 

The mid-terms in November 2022 are going to be very interesting this time around.  

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