Will Horse Racing Open up the Doors for Legal Sports Betting in California?

Will Horse Racing Join Legal Sports Betting in California

As of now, sports betting in California is illegal. But, you can still place bets on horses. This is a clear indication that the state is open to betting as a pastime. Now, the question is, when will betting be legalized in California?

A bit of analysis is crucial in order to come up with some sort of conclusion. Let’s start with the history of gambling and betting in the state.

A Brief History

Betting on sports within the state of California has been an interesting journey worth exploring. Significant milestones mark its evolution. We take a chronological overview of some key changes and attempts to modify the betting laws in California:

  • 1933: Horse racing became legal. This set the foundation for traditional horse racing as a sport and subsequent betting laws around it.
  • 1987: Tribal gambling was permitted within the state after the landmark ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court. Tribes were allowed to operate any form of gambling on their land that was also permitted under California laws. This ruling significantly bolstered tribal gambling, particularly for bingo parlors.
  • 2000: Proposition 1A comes into play and amends the state constitution to permit Native American tribes to operate casinos. They were allowed to operate slot machines, lottery games, and banking and percentage card games on tribal lands.
  • 2008: Four compacts within the law were negotiated by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and were approved by voters. This allowed the specified tribes to add thousands of new slot machines to their casinos.
  • 2020-2022: As other states are legalizing sports betting, this topic makes it to the forefront for California’s efforts to legalize sports betting through ballot propositions. However, California voters rejected the proposed sports betting initiatives. This marked a significant setback in the campaign to legalize sports betting on local teams like the Lakers and the Dodgers.
  • 2024: The upcoming referendum in 2024 may lead to the legalization of sports betting in California by 2025. This potential change could encompass both in-person and online sports betting, but the outcome remains to be seen.

Influence of Horse Racing on Betting Culture

There’s no doubt that horse racing is a fun sport. The thrill of watching these majestic animals speed past you on the track is something worth experiencing. At the same time, California residents love placing bets on horses within the state. This could be seen as a springboard for opening up the doors to broader sports betting opportunities in the state.

Historically, horse racing has been a well-accepted form of betting in California. Since 1933, the state’s racetracks have allowed those wishing to place wagers on races the ability to do so, but only through parimutuel bets. This means that the total amount of money placed in bets is split between those that backed the winner, so punters essentially bet against each other, rather than a bookmaker.

Iconic venues like Santa Anita Park and Del Mar Racetrack have long been part of the state’s cultural fabric. This showcases the public’s acceptance and appetite for this form of betting.

However, California’s racetrack closures might cast some doubt on whether this is a setback in legalizing sports betting. The ongoing discord between tribes and online operators continues to shape the sports betting legalization narrative in California.

But, the closure of significant tracks like Golden Gate Fields might create a vacuum in the betting market. This vacuum could fuel the desire for alternative betting outlets, propelling the push for sports betting legalization.

There aren’t a lot of options for those who want to place bets on major sports. As it stands, some bettors have to visit other states to enjoy some legal betting. For those who want to do it online, or within California, they may look to offshore or worse, illegal, sportsbooks. By legalizing sports betting in California, the state protects bettors from the danger of illegal bookies and keeps taxes generated from offshore sites within the state instead.

Failed Attempts: The Roadblocks to Sports Betting

Recent attempts to legalize sports betting in California hit a brick wall with the rejection of ballot propositions in 2020 and 2022. These setbacks underscored the divisive nature of gambling expansion in the state.

It’s an interesting situation considering that over 30 states across the US have already embraced sports betting legalization. But, why is California so hesitant so far?

To start, the road to sports betting legalization in California appears to be a complex one. One needs to consider the mix of legal, political, and public opinion factors. Different stakeholders have their own interests, including local tribes trying to protect their big piece of the gambling pie in their casinos.

Additionally, longstanding legal prohibitions have contributed to the challenges faced by pro-sports betting initiatives in the state. After all, gambling on sports has been illegal in California since 1891. This creates a well-established legal barrier to sports betting initiatives​.

Looking to 2025

As it stands, the best-case scenario for launching sports betting in California could be sometime in 2025. This is based on discussions in CA following the PASPA (Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act) in May 2018.

Additionally, the 2025 estimation takes into account the typical time frames observed in other states. It ranges from 6 months to 2 years after a positive vote to get the necessary post-legalization approvals​.

At this point, will the 2024 elections be a potential catalyst for legalization?

Well, in order for sports betting to go live in 2025, the public needs to be behind the initiative. Sufficient signatures and massive public approval during the 2024 election will play a big role.

However, time is reportedly running short for these preparatory processes. This underscores the challenges and the narrow window of opportunity for legalizing sports betting by 2025​​.

Another viewpoint suggests a more conservative timeline. If an agreement can be reached in 2023, the earliest Californians could legally bet on sports might be in 2024. Yet, given the failure of recent propositions, a more realistic timeline might see legalization passing in 2025 and going live in 2026​.

For now, it’s safe to say that, as we look towards 2025, there’s hope of legalization and locals being able to bet on their favorites like Klay Thomson and his Golden State Warriors teammates. Many established sportsbooks are ready to start operating in the state. The population is already comfortable with horse racing bets, so, it should be easy to convert them to general sports betting too.

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