Sports Betting Legalization Amendment Introduced by California Assemblyman

As the states’ rights challenge to current federal sports betting prohibition lodged by New Jersey is heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, lawmakers in California are looking ahead to legalization.

On July 21, Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-21) introduced Assembly Constitutional Amendment 18, which seeks to set up legal and regulated sports betting in the Golden State – provided the existing federal ban is lifted.

Since 1992, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) has outlawed the operation of sports books and wagers on sporting events across America (with Nevada, Delaware, Montana, and Oregon grandfathered in).

New Jersey voters approved a referendum to allow sports betting in 2011, and by 2014 Governor Chris Christie signed the bill into law. The law didn’t defer to PAPSA in any way, resulting in an immediate challenge from the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA), along with the four major professional sports leagues in North America (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL).

The resulting court case was initially ruled against New Jersey, but subsequent appeals have worked their way through the system, and the U.S. Supreme Court recently decided to take the case.

In a press release announcing the introduction of Amendment 18, Gray specifically mentioned the Supreme Court case as providing an impetus for California to act on the issue:

“I am pleased to see the US Supreme Court has shouldered the burden of bringing legal clarity to the issue of sports wagering and the rights of states under the United States Constitution.”

If passed, Amendment 18 would alter Section 19 of Article IV of the California state Constitution, inserting a passage which reads as follows:

“If the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (28 U.S.C. Sec. 3701, et seq.) is amended or repealed to allow sports wagering in California, the Legislature may authorize sports wagering.”

Gray has long been a champion of gambling rights in California, and seemingly every year over the last decade he has introduced online poker legislation. Those efforts have inched California closer to becoming the fourth state to set up an iGaming industry, but they’ve been derailed each year by political infighting between tribes who oppose gambling expansion at the expense of their current land-based casino operations.

With his latest move, Gray once again framed gambling legalization as a consumer protection issue, arguing that sports betting is already a massive unregulated industry within California:

“Whether we like it or not, Californians are already betting on sports through illegal and often unscrupulous websites in foreign countries. It is time to bring this multibillion dollar industry out of the shadows.

We need to crack down on illegal and unregulated online gaming and replace it with a safe and responsible option which includes safeguards against compulsive and underage gambling, money laundering, and fraud.

All other gaming activities in California are subject to regulations that ensure the safety of consumers. Sports wagering should be treated no differently.”

Many observers viewed the Supreme Court’s decision to take up the New Jersey case as an encouraging sign, as the body would’ve returned the case to the lower courts if at least some Justices didn’t see merits in New Jersey’s position.

Further momentum behind the repeal of PAPSA has been provided by Representative Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ), who recently introduced the Gaming Accountability and Modernization Enhancement (GAME) Act of 2017. This piece of legislation seeks to regulate iGaming, but one provision would specifically repeal PAPSA altogether.

And even two of the claimants in the case against New Jersey have shifted their stance, as the Commissioners of the National Basketball Association (NBA) and Major League Baseball (MLB) have publicly stated their support for PAPSA repeal and sports betting expansion.