February 25, 2022 Sports Betting, Tribal, Legal

California State Supreme Court declines to block tribal initiative

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Bid to allow in-person sports betting remains on November ballot.

The first legal battle of what is expected to be a bruising fight that will last for all of 2022 ended quickly, as the California State Supreme Court this week refused to hear a lawsuit that would have blocked a tribal-backed ballot initiative to expand gambling in the Golden State.

At issue is a proposition that would allows federally recognized Native American tribes to operate roulette, dice games and sports wagering on tribal lands, subject to compacts negotiated by the governor and ratified by the state legislature. Proponents include the Barona Band of Mission Indians, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation.

The California Secretary of State has placed the measure on the list of initiative measures that are “eligible” for the ballot. An eligible measure is one in which the required number of signatures have been submitted to and verified by the county elections officials. These measures will become “qualified” on the 131st day prior to the next Statewide General Election, which this year will be June 30.

The tribal-backed, in-person sports betting initiative is just one of potentially three or even four propositions that are seeking to get qualified for this year’s General Election. Analysts are predicting tens of millions of dollars will be spent this summer and fall in an effort to legalize sports betting in California.

In a case known as Hollywood Park Casino vs. Weber, California’s legal cardrooms attempted to remove the initiative from the November 8 ballot by asking the state’s Supreme Court to rule the initiative violates the California Constitution.

According to Juan Garza, spokesperson for a public agency called California Cities for Self-Reliance Joint Powers Authority, which represents several cities that are home to cardrooms, there is an element to the state constitution that says a ballot initiative cannot have more than one subject associated with it.

“The argument that was made by two of the cardrooms was this initiative had more than one subject,” Garza told Gaming America. “They went to the Supreme Court directly and proposed to stop it. Traditionally, the California Supreme Court is conservative in that it does not like to get ahead of the voters. The Court waits for the voters to opine, then it opines.”

Because of this established precedent, the cardrooms realized asking the Supreme Court to remove the initiative from the ballot was a “longshot,” Garza acknowledged.

“We expected this outcome. It was one tactic in the effort to defeat this initiative.”

Kathy Fairbanks, spokesperson for the Coalition for Safe, Responsible Gaming, which supports the in-person tribal sports wagering measure, sent Gaming America a prepared statement:

“We are pleased but not surprised the court rejected this frivolous lawsuit. The campaign in opposition to our measure is being led by cardroom casino operators who are frequent violators of California gaming laws and have been fined more than $8m for misleading state regulators and violating anti-money laundering laws. We are confident California voters will see through their deceptive and wasteful tactics and continue to stand with California tribes, who they have entrusted to provide safe, responsible gaming for over two decades,” Fairbanks said.

The two cardrooms that were named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit were Hollywood Park Casino in Inglewood and Cal-Pac Rancho Cordova in Sacramento County.

Garza, who is a former city council member and mayor of Bellflower, in Los Angeles County, said the cities and cardrooms he represents are working with No campaign for one reason: a provision the cardrooms say would allow any resident of the state to file a lawsuit for what tribal interests consider to be questionable processes.

“It could amount to death by 5,000 cuts if cardrooms have to defend themselves from thousands and thousands of lawsuits,” Garza said Friday.

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