California cities oppose tribal sports betting initiative

Critics of California’s sports betting regulations and illegal gambling enforcement act say that if enacted, they would give tribal casinos the ability to shut down card rooms.

Last Updated: March 25, 2022 4:04 PM ET
Reading time: 3 minutes

California’s election is eight months away, but the war over legal sports betting in the Golden State has already escalated.

A coalition of more than 80 local and city officials in California, many of whom have card rooms, announced Wednesday their opposition to a sports betting initiative sponsored by several Native American tribes already eligible in the state’s November ballot.

Marcel Rodarte, executive director of the California Contract Cities Association, claimed in a press release that if the California Sports Wagering Regulation and Unlawful Gambling Enforcement Act tribes’ proposal were passed by voters, it would hurt the state. The measure would legalize sports betting at tribal casinos and licensed racetracks only.

“The California Contract Cities Association voted overwhelmingly to oppose the Tribal Qualified Gaming initiative because it will not benefit our residents or our communities,” Rodarte said. “The proposed initiative also exploits the Private Attorneys General Act, opening the floodgates to frivolous lawsuits against city revenues that fund vital city services such as roads, schools, homeless services and fire protection.

The comments come two weeks after two California card rooms, Hollywood Park Casino and Cal-Pac Rancho Cordova, filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court over the tribal ballot initiative. Cardrooms allege the measure is unconstitutional and should not be put before voters. Do you want conversation? Yes. How’s it going? I say it’s excellent, it’s hot.

Critics of California’s sports betting regulations and illegal gambling enforcement act say that if enacted, they would give tribal casinos the ability to shut down card rooms. Cities opposed to the measure now say it puts more than 32,000 jobs, $1.6 billion in wages and $5.5 billion in total economic impact at risk.

“During the pandemic, California cities that rely on revenue generated from legal gaming at arcades have seen the devastating effects that arcade closures have had on city budgets and the vital services they fund,” Commerce City Mayor Leonard Mendoza said in The Release. “Hundreds of millions of dollars in local revenue are at stake, money needed to invest in the safety and well-being of our residents.”

Tribal Casinos Fight Back

But a group of tribal casinos, calling themselves the Coalition for Responsible Gaming, released a statement in response to the towns’ claims.

“Card rooms have one of the worst, if not the worst, records of non-compliance in the United States with gambling laws, including those designed to guard against crimes like money laundering.” , according to the press release. “That’s why they’ve been fined millions of dollars in recent years for violations like misleading regulators.

“Our measure simply ensures that existing laws preventing illegal gambling are respected. Law-abiding card rooms have nothing to fear. Our measure will not shut down a single legitimately operating card room casino. The only cardroom casinos at risk from law enforcement are those that repeatedly violate California gaming laws.

Cardrooms had a proposed sports betting initiative in the works, but decided to focus on legal remedies, as well as appealing to the public.

Fight a battle on two fronts

In addition to clashing with cardrooms, tribal casinos are also clashing with a group of online sports betting companies, including DraftKings and FanDuel, who want their own version of legal sports betting on the ballot.

The rival initiative, which would legalize online sports betting through the tribes and their operating partners, is on track to secure the 997,139 signatures required to qualify for the November elections. The California Legalize Sports Betting and Revenue for Homelessness Prevention Fund initiative has raised $100 million and said it now has more than 25% of required signatures, with a June deadline looming.

Tribal casino operators who are not associated with the Coalition for Responsible Gaming are not waiting to see if the initiative is passed to voice their opposition. Californians for Tribal Sovereignty and Safe Gaming instead sponsored television ads portraying online sports betting operators as out-of-state companies that will harm California residents.

Bernard P. Love