California’s Legislative Path For Legalizing Sports Betting

Cities File New Initiative for Sports Betting Legalization

Daniel Wallach, an adjunct professor at the University of New Hampshire, recently published a paper titled,  “A Legislative Path for Sports Betting in California: An Examination of Hotel Employees and the California Supreme Court’s Dueling Interpretations of the Constitutional Ban on ‘Casino-Style’ Gaming.”

In this paper, Wallach looks at Article IV, Section 19 (e) of California’s Constitution, which prohibits Nevada-and-New Jersey style casinos in California. With that, Wallach questions if the article rightfully prevents the California Legislature from authorizing sports betting through a statutory enactment. 

California’s Difficult Path to Legalization

Since the end of Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in 2018, nearly 30 states have legalized sports betting. California, being the largest market for Sports Betting in the U.S., has not been able to legalize easily. Its constitution, specifically Section 19 (e) provides a legal barrier, or so the government in California thinks.

California’s path to Sports Betting has been so slow, then, is due to the prevailing stance that the State Constitution needs amending. That is why, as Wallach mentions, California is legalizing sports betting through a ballot measure. In states that didn’t require constitutional amendments, legalization only meant long months of what Wallach describes as “legislative deliberations.” 

Wallach Makes an Argument for Easier Legalization

But Wallach challenges the need for this constitutional amendment altogether. Referencing the California Supreme Court’s decision in Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees Int’l Union v. Davis, 21 Cal.4th 585 (1999), which interprets the individual component parts of section 19(e). 

In the case, the Supreme Court identified two possible ways to interpret that constitutional language. On one hand, the language can refer to gambling activity that is “unique to or particularly associated with” Nevada and New Jersey casinos in 1984.

On the flip side, it can be interpreted as more broadly referring to all categories of gambling that were banned in California at that time. In short, the interpretation of Article IV, Section 19 (e) may not be relevant to Sports Betting at all. Sports betting cannot be distinctly defined as “casino-style” gambling and is not uniquely tied to Nevada and New Jersey. 

Wallach concludes, then, that the section’s ban on casino-style gaming is not a worthy barrier. The state legislature, in Wallach’s opinion, as the authority to legalize sports betting without a ballot measure. Article IV Section 19 (e) did not provide a wide enough reach to unequivocally include Sports Betting. That, in part, eventually led Wallach to his conclusion. 

Author: Erika Simmmons