Sports betting in California: Everything you need to know

California is known around the world for being an icon of liberal values, but when it comes to sports betting, the situation is a little more complex. Unlike some states in the US, California didn’t rush to legalize sports betting as soon as it possibly could – for a whole host of complex reasons. This blog post will investigate what the potential reasons for this might be and look at what the future might hold for those who want to bet in the Golden State.

A change in the law 

First off: few people who are involved in sports gambling will have missed this, but it’s worth briefly exploring the wider federal context of the sports betting debate that is raging in states across the US. Until relatively recently, federal law prohibited sports betting in any state except in a few very limited circumstances. This was governed by a law called the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). 

A few years ago, PASPA was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, which is the highest court in the US. When this was overruled in 2018, states suddenly gained the right to decide whether or not their jurisdiction permitted sports betting. Some states went wild as soon as they got the opportunity, while others – like California – have been more restrained.

The current situation

Currently, California has not legalized sports betting – and it’s not looking likely that it will happen in the very short term. At this time, those who want to bet on sports and live in California have to travel over the border into Nevada to do so.

One of the reasons why this has happened is the connection to the Native American community. Often, Native American tribes in the US are heavily involved in the local provision of gambling, and so far, tribes in the California area have not appeared to want to collaborate with the state on this matter. Some Native Americans in California have dug in their heels when it comes to proposed California sports betting legislation.

Some tribes, however, have signaled their support for some sports betting facilities. The Graton federation, for example, has signaled that it will support a measure that will be put to voters in November 2022. 

Coming up in 2022 

2022 is likely to be a key year in the California sports betting story. It’s believed that it could be the year in which sports betting finally becomes legal – not least because at least some of the tribes who are interested in being involved in the running of such businesses seem to be in favor. 

If it does, the sports betting market in the state is likely to explode. California is not only one of the richest states in the US – it’s also one of the most populous. It’s almost certain that there will be tons of interest in the operation of and participation in sports betting in the state. It’s hard to predict exactly how lucrative the revenue streams will turn out to be once they get going, but it’s estimated that it could be as high as $12bn per year. 

Against DraftKings? 

One particularly interesting part of the battle to legalize sports betting in California is the fact that DraftKings, which offers fantasy sports services with cash prizes as a way of providing money-based sports competition outcomes, wants its very own piece of the sports betting action. However, the tribal groups who are involved in the passage of the legislation are against this on the grounds that DraftKings – and similar providers such as FanDuel – are far from local or community-based.

 It’s likely that rival ballot initiatives and legislative suggestions will occur. It’s eminently possible that the tribes will push for an in-person-only sports betting arrangement which benefits them – suggesting that online sports betting could be out the window. If the DraftKings side gets its way, however, online sports betting may arrive in California as soon as next year. It remains to be seen exactly how the political realities are likely to play out – and what might unfold.

In short, the story of sports betting in California so far is an interesting one. The state hasn’t taken a hugely pro-betting approach in recent times, and it’s certainly not anywhere near as liberal as states like New Jersey are on the issue. However, as this article has shown, a move towards sports betting may take place in the coming months.

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