California tribes get more time for betting ballot, cardrooms shut again


California’s tribal casino operators have been given more time to pursue legal sports betting while the state’s cardroom operators have been given more time to twiddle their thumbs.

On Thursday, California Superior Court Judge James Arguelles gave a coalition of gaming tribes another 90 days in which to gather the signatures necessary to get their proposed sports betting amendment on the state’s 2022 election ballot. The tribes now have until Oct. 12 to gather the minimum 1.1m signatures (and ideally around 1.5m).

The tribes sued the state last month seeking 180 additional days in which to continue their signature-gathering efforts, which were close to completion in March when the state imposed social distancing restrictions due to COVID-19. While the tribes missed the window for the 2020 ballot, Thursday’s ruling means they don’t have to start all over for their 2022 push.

Arguelles’ ruling is only tentative, giving both the tribes and the state some wiggle room regarding exactly when the signatures must be submitted for verification. The state expressed some unease that the process would coincide with the 2020 election, possibly putting an undue burden on election officials, and Arguelles signalled that he would be comfortable hearing requests for minor schedule tinkering.

The ballot initiative would allow gaming tribes and state racetracks to offer land-based wagering only, while a rival proposal from state legislators offered the possibility of online wagering. That latter effort died last month largely due to tribal opposition to the state proposing to enshrine the right of cardrooms to offer games the tribes view as encroaching on their turf.

Speaking of cardrooms, most of them were ordered to close this week as California attempted to deal with a sudden spike in COVID-19 infections. Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered a wide swathe of non-essential retail businesses across 19 counties – covering around 70% of the state’s population – to cease ‘indoor operations’ for at least three weeks.

The cardrooms had only resumed operations a few weeks ago with new safety precautions in place, in keeping with each county’s public health guidelines. But at least one venue was forced to close just days after opening due to an employee testing positive for COVID-19.

Tribal casinos, which aren’t subject to Newsom’s orders, have also reopened, most of them requiring customers to wear masks unless eating or drinking in designated areas. Many of them have also temporarily banned smoking on the gaming floor, a change some guests hope to see made permanent when all this nonsense is finally over.