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Ironically, Californians and Missourians Can’t Legally Bet on Their Super Bowl Teams

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Super Bowl irony: Californians, Missourians can’t bet on their teams despite the NFL-gambling industry merge.

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Super Bowl irony: Californians, Missourians can't bet on their teams despite the NFL-gambling industry merge. (AP/Carolyn Kaster)
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Californians and Missourians can’t legally bet on Super Bowl.

38 states have legalized sports wagering after anti-gambling act voided.

Two sports wagering initiatives in California failed to gain support.


Sunday’s Super Bowl in Las Vegas, the world capital of gambling, symbolizes the new alliance between professional sports leagues and the gambling industry. However, residents of the states with teams in the game, California and Missouri, cannot legally bet on it.

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Dan Walters
CalMatters
Opinion

Sunday’s Super Bowl, pitting the San Francisco 49ers against the Kansas City Chiefs and staged in Las Vegas’ new stadium, has ironic twists.

“The 2024 Super Bowl in Las Vegas symbolizes the ultimate convergence of the NFL’s showcase event and the beacon of American betting,” Rotowire, a website devoted to sports gambling, recently noted. “This historic pairing is set to amplify the excitement surrounding the game, potentially making it one of the most bet-on events in history.”

After the U.S. Supreme Court voided the anti-gambling Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which had been passed in 1992 with the full support of sports leagues, 38 states legalized sports wagering and the leagues signed sponsorship deals with major gambling corporations.

However, California and Missouri, the home states of Sunday’s contenders for the National Football League title, are two of the holdouts, so their residents cannot legally place bets on their favorite teams.

After the federal anti-gambling act was declared unconstitutional, it was immediately apparent that promoters of sports wagers would target California, the nation’s most populous state and home to 14 major league sports teams. With billions of dollars potentially at stake, the gambling industry’s major players pressured the Legislature to act but essentially battled to a draw over which faction would have the upper hand.

As with many other legislative stalemates, the contenders shifted their conflict to the initiative process and eventually two measures were placed before voters in 2022.

Proposition 26, sponsored by a dozen Native American tribes that already owned casinos, would have allowed sports bets at their casinos and at four horse racing tracks – the inclusion of the latter aimed at neutralizing a potential opponent.

Proposition 27, backed by a coalition of gaming companies, such as FanDuel and DraftKings, would have allowed online sports wagers. Three small tribes that did not have casinos also supported it, since they could have derived some financial benefits.

Upwards of a half-billion dollars were spent on campaigns for and against the two measures but both went down in flames. It was, however, a strategic win for the tribes, whose virtual monopoly on legal gambling in California was protected.

“Everybody knows this: You don’t come and try to screw the tribes,” Victor Rocha, conference chairperson for the national Indian Gaming Association, later told CalMatters.

Given the outcome, there was little appetite for another legislative effort or another ballot battle. However, last year a couple of businessmen, gambling industry veteran Kasey Thompson and blockchain executive Reeve Collins, submitted two potential sports wagering initiatives to the state Department of Justice and began trolling for support from California tribes.

They would have allowed both online and in-person wagering controlled by tribal casinos, but the California Nations Indian Gaming Association quickly denounced the effort and the two initiatives disappeared as quickly as they had surfaced.

Stripped of politics and self-interest, is there really any reason for California to deny its residents opportunities to legally bet on sports? After all, the state already allows Californians to legally kill their brain cells with alcohol and marijuana, pollute their lungs with cigarette smoke and gamble with cards and slot machines, on horse races and in the state’s own lottery.

Sports wagering is no worse than these other vices. While a purist might decry betting on athletic competitions, it’s already legal in many other states and the sports leagues themselves have embraced it.

Given all of that, it’s somewhat hypocritical for California to continue its prohibition.

About the Author

Dan Walters has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. He began his professional career in 1960, at age 16, at the Humboldt Times. CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more columns by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary.

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Dan Walters has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. He has written more than 9,000 columns about the state and its politics and is the founding editor of the “California Political Almanac.” Dan has also been a frequent guest on national television news shows, commenting on California issues and policies.

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