Legal sports betting in California just got more complicated. Here’s what to know.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story stated the two online betting initiatives were conflicting. While the actual constitutional amendment language of the in-person betting proposal doesn’t specifically prohibit online betting statewide, a spokesperson for the in-person proposal said the two proposals “are absolutely not complementary.” Given this stance from those behind the in-person proposal, a Sacramento attorney quoted in the Wall Street Journal said there will likely be litigation over which proposal will be implemented if both pass, casting doubt on the idea that the two could coexist under state law.

Proponents of a measure that would make online sports betting legal in California say it has qualified for the general election ballot, meaning two sports betting measures set to appear on the November ballot this year seem to be directly at odds with one another. 

The presence of two separate items will likely cause confusion among voters as election season heats up and political action committees pushing each measure begin taking shots at one another in their ad campaigns. 

Below are answers to some of the biggest questions California voters may have about the two ballot items and the future of legal sports betting in the state.

What are the two measures and who is behind them?

One is a proposal that would legalize online sports betting in California, which would allow residents to place bets on sporting events from virtually anywhere as long as they have access to the internet. This one is being pushed by coalition of the nation’s three largest online gambling companies: FanDuel Group, DraftKings Inc. and BetMGM.  

The other measure would also legalize sports betting statewide, but it would require bets be made in-person at casinos operated on Native American lands or at horse-racing tracks. Most of California’s Native American tribes — about 60 operate casinos statewide — are supporting this measure, mostly out of their united opposition against the online betting one. A group called Californians for Tribal Sovereignty and Safe Gaming are responsible for the “Protect Tribal Gaming” ads you’ve likely seen on TV. 

Each side has spent, or promised to spend, hundreds of millions of dollars to ensure their proposal is the one that eventually becomes law. Some analysts predict this will be the most expensive political battle in California this year, and could be among the most expensive in state history. 

Do the two measures conflict? 

Both would make sports betting legal in California, but they seem to come into conflict with one another over how someone is able to legally make a wager. 

If the first proposal passes, you could place a bet online from your home computer. If the second proposal passes, you’re limited to betting in-person at a casino operated on Native American lands or at a horse-racing track. 

A spokesperson for the online betting proposal said that the language of the in-person proposal places no limits on where bets can be placed, and thus the two are not in conflict. A spokesperson for the in-person proposal said the intent was to limit sports betting to only in-person wagers, likely setting the stage for post-election litigation.

Why will they both be on the general election ballot? 

The groups behind each proposal gathered enough signatures to have their respective measures appear on the ballot this fall. The number of signatures needed to get an item on the general election ballot this year was just under 1 million.

The signatures for the online betting proposal still need to be verified by state officials. Many signatures will likely not be valid and therefore won’t be counted. But since the political action committee pushing that proposal submitted 1.6 million signatures — roughly 600,000 more than they needed — it’s very likely the measure will be approved and will appear on November’s ballot.

Those 1.6 million signatures were submitted to state officials Tuesday. 

What happens if both measures are passed by voters? 

If the two are deemed to be in conflict, one that gets the most “yes” votes will become law. 

Let’s say both proposals pass, but the one that legalizes online sports betting receives 80,000 “yes” votes while the other proposal only receives 70,000 “yes” votes. The online betting measure would become law in that scenario. 

There is historical precedent for such a phenomenon in California. However, if both measures do pass are not held to be in conflict, it’s likely that several lawsuits will be filed against each, which could ultimately change the outcome. 

Keep in mind, it’s possible that only one measure passes. Both measures could fail, too. 

What’s at stake? 

In short, who controls sports betting in California — a market that’s sure to generate millions, if not billions, of dollars for those at the helm. 

Why is this happening now? 

While several forms of gambling are permitted in California, betting on sports games is still illegal. However, a 2018 ruling by the United States Supreme Court cleared the way for individual states to legalize sports gambling and many states moved quickly to allow residents to place wagers on sporting events. 

More than 30 states have already legalized sports betting since that ruling. 

Are more sports betting proposals coming this year?

Two more proposals could end up on the November ballot. 

Some Native American tribes have pledged their support for a third proposal that would allow tribes to control the online sports betting market. The tribes say their support for this measure does not conflict with the other tribe-supported measure.

A fourth proposal, backed by the state’s card rooms, would provide online sports betting licenses for cardrooms, tribal casinos, professional sports teams and horse tracks. 

It’s unclear if either of these two proposals will receive enough supporting signatures by the end of June — the due date — to get on this year’s general election ballot.  

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