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Despite U.S. Supreme Court Ruling, Don’t Expect California To Legalize Sports Wagering Anytime Soon

hinnosaar / Flickr

hinnosaar / Flickr

Efforts to legalize sports gaming in California have new momentum from Monday’s U.S Supreme Court ruling. But it’ll take years, if ever, before you can legally bet on the Giants or Dodgers at your nearby casino, card room or race track — or even online.

That’s because there are lots of different interest groups that will seek a piece of the market:  tribal casinos, card rooms, horse racing tracks, out-of-state sports wagering operators, daily fantasy sports, and of course major sports leagues and their unions.

And they’ve already failed to reach agreement on Internet poker legislation, which has languished for years at the state Capitol.

“No one faction is strong enough to make it happen, but almost every faction is strong enough to kill it,” said veteran tribal lobbyist David Quintana.

On top of all that, voters would still need to approve an amendment to the state constitution to allow sports wagering.

“All of those parties are now going to converge in California, try to come up with some agreement that pisses off the fewest people possible, and, once that’s done, they’re gonna have to run a constitutional amendment,” Quintana added.

“So, yeah, this is gonna be a really steep hill.”

But Asm. Adam Gray (D-Merced) thinks it’s a hill that can be climbed.

Gray worked on Internet poker legislation and is now carrying a constitutional amendment to legalize sports wagering. He says he has higher hopes of success on this issue because it has a much larger market share than Internet poker, pointing to one estimate that pegs the black market nationwide as big as $400 billion.

“That’s a tremendous amount of people wagering on sports,” Gray said, “and I think consumer demand is most likely going to drive this discussion.”

But even Gray acknowledges his constitutional amendment to allow sports wagering wouldn’t go before voters until 2020 at the earliest. And only after its passage could the Legislature and governor legalize it and create a regulatory framework.

Add to that the possibility of legal challenges — Native American tribes, for example, believe the state constitution gives them the exclusive right to operate sports wagering, along with casino-style gaming in California — and there’s yet another hurdle.

So, don’t expect any legalization until after the 2020 election at the earliest — and possibly never.

Ben Adler

Capitol Bureau Chief

Capitol Bureau Chief Ben Adler first became a public radio listener in the car on his way to preschool – though not necessarily by choice. Now, he leads Capital Public Radio’s state Capitol coverage, which airs on NPR stations across California.  Read Full Bio 

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