Lawmaker Wants to Make Sports Betting Legal in Calif.

The state of California would become "the house" under bill. California would collect 7.5 percent of the action in taxes.

By Stephanie Chuang
|  Sunday, Apr 28, 2013  |  Updated 8:16 PM PDT
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California State Sen. Roderick Wright is proposing a bill that would legalize sports betting in the Golden State. The same effort failed last year. Stephanie Chuang explains why this year might be different.

California State Sen. Roderick Wright is proposing a bill that would legalize sports betting in the Golden State. The same effort failed last year. Stephanie Chuang explains why this year might be different.

It’s a debate that centers on how some people spend their money that could hit the Supreme Court: should sports betting be legal in states like California?

State Senator Roderick Wright, a Democrat representing Inglewood in Southern California, is trying to push a bill that failed to get anywhere last year.

His bill would aim to legalize cash-only sports betting in California for anyone 21 and older, excluding California college sports, and limit the activity only to places that already allow gaming and gambling, such as racetracks and card rooms.

The state could collect seven-and-a-half percent of the action in taxes.

“What we know is that in a gross amount, Californians are spending in excess of one billion dollars in Nevada today on gaming, sports gaming. $50 to $70 million a year is what the state’s share would be,” explained Wright, speaking to NBC Bay Area on the phone Saturday. “It’s not chicken feed is all I’m saying.”

According to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission report in 1999, one of the latest to study the figures in sports wagering specifically, Nevada took in 2.3 billion dollars in sports betting in one year. The estimated amount in illegal sports betting went up as much as 380 billion dollars.

In 1992, the federal government made sports betting illegal everywhere except in the four states that had already allowed it: Delaware, Montana, Oregon and Nevada.

Even though it’s legal in those states, major sports leagues, including the NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL, have voiced stern opposition against legalizing it other places in the country, citing concerns of increased changes of fixed games.

“They’re already engaged in some level of wagering, otherwise they wouldn’t tell you that the Yankees are a two-to-one favor,” said Wright. “There’s a kind of disingenuous aspect from the sporting agencies because on one hand they do this wink and nod. And on other hand, they understand the more people are invested in the game, the more interested they’ll be in watching it.”

Hector Lozano of San Jose, a regular at Casino Matrix, agreed. “Publicly, they’re against it, but secretly they like it because they gain – people betting, hyping it up.”

Lozano said he and his South Bay friends bet on the Super Bowl every year, forced to drive or fly to Nevada in order to celebrate.

“A three-and-a-half hour drive and you can place thousands of dollars worth of betting,” said Lozano. “Lots of people from the Bay Area go to Vegas, Reno, Tahoe every weekend.”

For Lozano it’s about the bottom line. He said he’s tired of hearing about service cuts, namely to the police department. With money spent both legally and illegally, his question is why not capitalize?

“People are going to do what they’re going to do,” said Lozano. “They should wake up and try to get it so our cities can get the money.”

The state of New Jersey is the latest to take on the issue of legalizing sports betting. It just lost a federal court case in February, but is appealing the case. Governor Chris Christie has vowed to take it to the Supreme Court if necessary.

Even if state lawmakers pass Wright’s bill, it will have to wait for the decision at the federal level before sports betting can be legal in California.

Wright said even though the bill stalled in the Assembly last year, he believes public momentum is on his side this time around.

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