Three weeks ago, a coalition of Native American tribes in California gathering signatures to add a tribal-only sports betting initiative to the November ballot was making significant progress, but it’s the Tribes’ California Sports Betting Petition progress has been derailed due to COVID-19 closured and cancellations.

At that time, the 18 tribes reported having more than 600,000 signatures from registered voters in the books – putting them on pace to exceed the requirement of 997,139 by April 21. Speaking to Legal Sports Report on March 9, Jacob Meija – a spokesperson for the coalition led by the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians – was optimistic that the tribes would eventually gather 1.5 million signatures:

“We’re off to a really strong start.

We’ve got until the end of April to gather the signatures we need.”

But just two days later, America felt the first shockwaves from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic after the National Basketball Association (NBA) suspended its season.

Highway sign saying 'avoid travel, stay at home, beat COVID-19'

Californians were issued a stay-at-home order, like many other places around the world.

By March 19, Governor Gavin Newsom (D) issued a statewide “stay at home” order which shuttered all non-essential businesses and directed Californians to shelter in place.

And on March 31, Meija told Legal Sports Report that the coalition has suspended its signature campaign for the foreseeable future:

“Because the health and wellbeing of Californians is foremost, we paused paid signature-gathering efforts for the time being.

Tribal leadership remains committed to bringing this proposal to voters in November and are monitoring developments closely and assessing all options.”

Tribes Close to Technical Requirement, Still Needs More Signatures

According to Meija, the coalition – which also includes casino operating tribes like the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, the Barona Band of Mission Indians, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, and the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians – has already amassed most of the 997,139 signatures required by state law for the California Sports Betting Petition.

That figure was calculated by taking 8 percent of California’s most recent gubernatorial vote turnout.

However, the California Secretary of State uses a random sampling procedure to determine signatures’ validity, and that sample must estimate that 110 percent of the signature requirement has been met. Based on this provision, the tribes had planned on gathering at least 1.5 million signatures to avoid a manual count.

As he told Legal Sports Report, Meija believes the tribes would’ve satisfied that goal with time to spare absent the coronavirus outbreak and statewide shutdown:

“We are just shy of 1 million signatures and would have reached our goal well ahead of the deadline before the unprecedented orders around COVID-19.”

“We are just shy of 1 million signatures and would have reached our goal well ahead of the deadline before the unprecedented orders around COVID-19.”
Jacob Meija

Tribes’ California Sports Betting Petition Stops, Opposition Ramps Up

The tribal coalition is looking to add a referendum to this year’s ballot which would legalize and regulate sports betting – while limiting the industry to tribal casino operators only.

This arrangement would cut California’s commercial card clubs out of the equation, but operators of these companies are prepping for a major pushback.

According to state records for political contributions, the “No on the Gambling Power Grab” campaign – which describes itself as “a committee of local leaders, licensed card clubs and their employees, law enforcement and local businesses” – has already secured $7 million in funding.

casino card game, king and ace card on casino table

The ballot seeks to eliminate California Card Clubs – But owners of these casinos are pushing back.

That funding has been provided by seven companies with a vested interest in the commercial card club industry:

  • $2,250,000 from Knighted Ventures LLC
  • $2,250,000 from Parkwest Casinos
  • $500,000 from Hawaiian Gardens Casino
  • $500,000 from Hollywood Park Casino
  • $500,000 from Bicycle Casino
  • $500,000 from PT Gaming LLC
  • $500,000 from Elevation Entertainment Group

In his own comments to Legal Sports Report, “No” campaign spokesperson Steven Maviglio vowed that the funding effort would intensify as election season draws near:

“Seven million is just the down payment. There’s a lot more where that came from.

Their business is at stake, their employees are at stake and a lot of tax money is at stake.

The tribes are trying a number of things to make the card clubs not be able to exist, destroy local city budgets and cause thousands of people to permanently lose their jobs.

We’re going to have an aggressive campaign to make sure it doesn’t pass and that means putting in money now.”

Jonathan Zaun

One of Gamble Online's first dedicated reporters, Jonathan has spent well over a decade reporting on the gaming industry. While breaking legal news is his main area of expertise, Jonathan is an avid blackjack player & strategist who follows professional poker closely.

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