California sports betting would need constitutional change

Crystal Kalahiki pays out a bet in the sports book at the South Point in Las Vegas. The Supreme Court gave its go-ahead for states to allow gambling on sports across the nation. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Voters would have to change California's Constitution before legal sports betting could come to the nation's most populous state, state lawmakers and tribes who run the state's casinos said Monday.

Democratic Assemblyman Adam Gray of Merced immediately said he will push a constitutional amendment after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a 1992 federal law that barred gambling on the results of football, baseball, basketball, hockey and other games.

His amendment would ask voters to allow sports gambling and deputize the Legislature to regulate the wagering.

But lawmakers face a late June deadline to put it on the November ballot, a tight timeline. It would take a two-thirds vote, and tribes would likely vie with card rooms, horse tracks and online operations for the chance to run the sports book.

That makes it unlikely anything will happen quickly, said David Quintana, a tribal lobbyist with clients including the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, a major tribe in San Diego County.

It's unclear if Congress will now add its own layer of regulation or if California would allow outside internet operators like the DraftKings fantasy sports gambling site. Sports betting is a low margin business, he said, meaning it takes a large volume of betters to make it profitable enough to be worth the effort.

"I think it's going to be a pretty arduous process," Quintana said.

Gray argued that many California residents already bet illegally, often through unregulated offshore websites.

"It is time to bring this multibillion-dollar industry out of the shadows," he said in a statement. "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."

Previous bills to expand gambling in California have repeatedly failed.
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