SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A group of California Native American tribes sued the state on Tuesday, claiming that the state’s coronavirus shutdown prevented them from gathering voter signatures in recent months, and that they need more time to qualify a sports betting measure for the statewide ballot.
The complaint comes as state officials worry that the virus will make it difficult for Californians to vote, prompting Gov. Gavin Newsom to order ballots to be mailed to the state’s 20.6 million voters last month.
The Coalition to Authorize Regulated Sports Wagering, which includes more than 25 Native American tribes across California, has filed a new legal claim in the hopes of qualifying an initiative for the ballot in 2022 that would legalise sports betting at tribal casinos and horse racing tracks.
The coalition had hoped to appear on the November 3 ballot but ran out of time, though the state says it could still apply by June 25 to appear on the ballot this year.
The alliance is requesting a 90-day extension in the hopes of qualifying for the next election. Regardless of the timing of the election in which it will be debated by voters, state law allows supporters of a ballot measure 180 days to collect the signatures needed.
Kenneth Kahn, chairman of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, said, “This is about preserving the people’s democratic right to follow an initiative during the pandemic.” “As a sacrifice to protect everyone’s public health, tribal leaders briefly halted signature gathering.”
The tribes started circulating petitions for the initiative in January, and the complaint claims that the July 20 deadline for submitting 997,139 signatures to get the initiative on the ballot in 2022 “presents an impossible burden that prohibits Petitioners from exercising their right to propose legislation by initiative, as guaranteed by the State Constitution.”
According to the complaint filed in Sacramento County Superior Court against Secretary of State Alex Padilla, enforcing the deadline would also violate the tribes’ rights under the 1st Amendment to petition the government for redress of grievances.
According to the lawsuit, the tribes spent $7 million to gather 971,373 signatures by mid-March, when Newsom released the stay-at-home order, and would face pressure if they missed the deadline and had to start gathering signatures for a referendum in a future year.
The complaint asks the court to extend the deadline until all of California’s counties have reached the third of four stages in Newsom’s state-wide phased reopening strategy, or at least 90 days.
According to Sam Mahood, a spokesman for the Secretary of State, Padilla’s staff is “reviewing the litigation” and “does not have clear comment on it at this time.”
The proposal will legalise sports betting at tribal casinos and horse tracks, but not at rival card clubs or online, and impose a 10% tax on racetrack sports gaming revenue.
Sports are becoming more legal.
The state Legislature is considering a competing ballot measure that the tribes reject. It will make sports betting more widely available, even online, and grant card clubs the discretion to continue selling those card games that tribes claim infringe on their exclusive tribal gambling rights.
Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa) of California claims that his bill to legalise sports betting could bring in $200 million in tax and fee revenue in the first year and up to $700 million once the industry matures.
After Dodd argued that it was critical to bring sports betting out of the shadows in California, the Senate Governmental Organization Committee voted to support the bill last week.
“Legalizing sports betting provides California with an opportunity to generate much-needed revenue during these difficult economic times,” Dodd said. “Because sports betting will continue to exist whether it is legal or not.”
Twenty-two other states have legalised sports betting as a result of a 2018 Supreme Court decision overturning the federal ban, but California voters must agree to amend the state Constitution to allow the practise here.