California has a massive potential when it comes to online gambling but at the moment, it isn’t being tapped into. Betting on fantasy sports and horse races is legal and the Supreme Court ruling to overturn the ban on other forms of sports betting has opened the door for a widening of the sports betting market. What is the current state of sports betting in California and what could the future hold?
Just what are fantasy sports? To the uninitiated, it sounds like quidditch or dragon riding or some other ridiculous game played at Hogwarts, or perhaps popular in some other quirky novel. In reality, it’s something far more interesting. The sports involved are real – the fantasy element is the fantasy sportsman’s creation of a team. Fantasy sportsmen choose players to create their own teams, then the real players’ statistics during the season are used to determine the success of the fantasy teams. It has much more in common with a statistics math course than it does with actual athletic activity.
Fantasy sports betting has become a huge business and continues to grow. As of 2015, fantasy sports as an industry was bringing in $1.5 billion a year in revenue. Many are attracted to this kind of online betting because a lot of the betting sites, including big names such as DraftKings and FanDuel, offer huge prize money pots.
Many associate horse racing with the east coast and the south because of the cultural fascination with events such as the Kentucky Derby (who doesn’t want an excuse to drink mint juleps and wear a fancy hat?) and the excitement that surrounds each new potential Triple Crown winner. However, California also has a long history of horse racing. The Del Mar and Santa Anita Park racetracks were both established in the 1930s and have been popular racing venues ever since. Santa Anita Park, in particular, attracted a rather glamorous clientele in the 1940s and 50s as it was close enough to Hollywood to attract movie stars such as Cary Grant and Lana Turner.
Betting on horse racing is a lucrative form of sports betting, with a long history. The three biggest races of the year – the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes – draw huge numbers of bettors every year, from experienced sports gamblers to first-timers wanting to join in the fun. California’s Pacific Classic Stakes and Santa Anita Handicap are another two of the big races and both recently announced changes that will make the races more lucrative for owners and more exciting for bettors. California already sees the benefits from legal betting on horse racing, so this should affect decisions regarding other kinds of sports betting.
The status of online sports betting in California is still being decided. Currently, sports betting is stuck in a kind of legal limbo. In a 2018 judgement, the Supreme Court ruled to overturn the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) in favor of state control of sports betting laws. PASPA was deemed unconstitutional because it removed power from the states to control something that should be under each state’s individual control. Many states, including New Jersey (the state that brought the case to the Supreme Court), Delaware, New York, Illinois and Mississippi have all legalized some form of sports betting.
California is looking to change its own sports betting laws but the issue is more complicated than simply legalizing gambling on professional sports. Currently, there is a measure that will be on the November 2022 ballot that seeks to allow sports betting in casinos on Native American land, but this is being challenged by other gambling establishments that would be excluded from the influx of revenue that would follow legalization. There are estimates that allowing online sports betting as well could add an additional $3 billion to state revenue – an amount that would help the state to deal with the awful environmental impact of global climate change.
Relaxing gambling laws in the United States seems like a massive undertaking when you consider all of the different interest groups that may have a reason to prevent it, and the fact that alongside federal laws, each state has its own gambling laws. Focusing on one particular form of gambling could be a good first step. Online sports betting is the ideal first form of gambling to be made more accessible, as it doesn’t compete with the existing, physical casinos. California would indeed be smart to figure out how to gain substantial revenue from online sports betting.