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The politics of letting loose the furies of sports gambling in California

To be clear, at present, the state of California legally bans sports betting. That does not mean no one in the state bets on sports. California is a big-time sports heavyweight. There’s always plenty of betting on the Lakers, Dodgers and Rams, for example, and somewhat less on the Angels, Clippers and our soccer teams. There will be major betting action during the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles, too. But organized betting on sports is simply illegal in the state, and both fines and prison sentences are at play daily.

On May 14, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal government could not force states to prohibit sports betting. This overturned the previous federal ban on sports betting and allowed the states to legalize sports betting. Currently, 36 states and Washington, D.C. already allow sports betting and the race to capture the biggest fish of all, California, is now in full swing.

Though the California state constitution Article IV, still makes sports betting illegal in the state, certain forms of gambling, regulated by the state or the state’s Native American tribes through state contracts, are permitted. These include regulated Card Rooms, Tribal casinos on tribal land, the state-run lottery, Bingo parlors, and on-site Horse race wagering. California’s primary real-life legislation in this area is the Gambling Control Act (GCA) as part of the California Business and Professions Code, 1980.

For this year’s November ballot, there is a wild, big-bosomed contest to change California law to allow sports gambling in the state. This is major-mega money, and where there is big, big money at play, you can expect a lot of very big lies, obfuscations, and deliberate confusions in order to win the day. The California contests to pass Props 26 and 27 are prime examples of that truth.

Because this would be a change in the California Constitution, for either proposition to pass, it must obtain over 50% of the vote cast. If either proposition passes, there will be a massive change in California’s gaming environment. If both pass, that will amount to a legal gambling revolution in the state.

Proposition 26, for example, if passed, would add legalized sports betting, roulette and dice games to the other activities already allowed at tribal casinos (mainly slot machines, and a few card games like Blackjack) and it would authorize more than pari-mutuel sports betting at California’s four private horse race tracks. The campaign for Prop 26 is being paid for by approximately 12 of the 80 California Native American tribes who already have gaming casinos on tribal land (out of approximately 109 federally recognized California tribes). Prop 26 is an opportunity to pad their pockets, not expand the number of tribes who benefit.

Proposition 27, if passed, would legalize online sports betting across the state, including allowing rapid sports betting on virtually every cell phone, and the campaign for its passage is being paid for by a handful of large gaming companies headquartered outside California, including FanDuel, DraftKings, and BetMGM, the three betting firms that now control at least 70% of the U.S. sports betting market.

Under Proposition 27, both gaming companies and tribes could offer online and mobile sports betting. No, the tribes that don’t have gaming contracts with the state and/or casinos will not profit from the passage of Prop 27. Any additional money the state collects from the increased gambling for handling the homeless crisis will be negligible. No, the passage of Props 26 and 27 will not primarily benefit the state’s overall tribal population. It will benefit those who already have. They will simply get more. Props 26 and 27 will not help our current state crises get better. For those who want to use their ballot to help make positive change, search the ballot harder for real causes.

In fact, without either ballot’s passage, those who already gamble in the state will continue to do so, and those who don’t will still have the choice they have now.

The campaigns to pass both propositions are basically grifts . Indian gaming from tribal casinos already nets over 8 billion dollars a year, a figure that rivals Las Vegas. If you like playing three-card molly, then pony up.

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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