What happens if Californians pass two sports betting initiatives?

Subscribe to CalMatters’ free daily newsletter to get news and commentary that holds your elected leaders accountable.

There’s a good chance that two initiatives to legalize sports betting will appear on the November ballot. If both pass, they might both go into effect or the result could be decided in court, depending on which one gets more yes votes.

Come November, Californians will likely face the question: Should sports betting be legalized?

And then, a bit further down their ballot, there’s a good chance they’ll get asked again: Should sports betting be legalized?

Yep. Odds are that two measures to legalize sports betting will appear on November’s ballot. That’s pared back from earlier this year, when four different initiatives were in play.

Of the two remaining measures, one is already eligible for the November ballot, and the other is expected to be soon. 

The “” is backed by a group of Native American tribes and is currently eligible for the ballot. It would allow tribal casinos and the state’s four horse race tracks to offer sports betting.  It would also allow tribal casinos to expand their gambling offerings to roulette and dice games.

Meanwhile, the “” is backed by several large sports betting companies, including FanDuel, DraftKings, and BetMGM. It would legalize online sports betting outside of Native American lands, and allow gaming companies to offer online sports betting if they partner with a tribe. Election officials are reviewing the signatures for this initiative — if enough are valid, it too will be eligible for the ballot.

California occasionally ends up with ballots that have multiple initiatives on the same topic. 

If one passes and the others don’t, then there’s no problem: The one that passes goes into effect, the others do not.

If they all pass and don’t conflict with one another, they can all go into effect. 

The initiative backed by FanDduel, DraftKkings and BetMGM asserts that it does not conflict with the measure allowing sports betting on tribal lands, and that if both pass, both go into effect. The measure backed by the tribes doesn’t say anything about whether it conflicts with other measures. 

In February, when four sports betting initiatives were in the mix, state legislative leaders Anthony Rendon and Toni Atkins voiced interest in pursuing a compromise over sports betting. 

“I think it’s always confusing to the voters when there’s multiple ballot measures along the same item,” said state Senate leader Toni Atkins, a Democrat from San Diego, at a Sacramento Press Club event. “If you want to see progress, it’s helpful for it to be more simple so I think maybe there will be an opportunity (to negotiate a deal),” Atkins said.

When CalMatters asked Atkins’ office if legislative leaders were still considering a deal, a spokesperson said they were still looking into it.

The vast majority of Californians think the initiative process needs to be changed, according to a survey conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California in April. Over 90% of Caliornians somewhat or strongly agreed that the wording of ballot measures is often too confusing for voters to understand what happens if the initiative passes, and 56% said that special interests control a lot of the process.

Most initiatives don’t pass, and Mark Baldassare, president of the institute, said the likelihood of a measure passing goes down further if voters are confused by it.

The fact that initiatives can be confusing to voters — and that the process can be further muddled by having more than one initiative on the same subject — is “a huge problem,” said Mary-Beth Moylan, associate dean at the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law. 

“People don’t tend to read things closely. And oftentimes, what is included in the ballot title is arguably misleading,” Moylan said. “So that’s particularly dangerous in a situation where you have multiple initiatives about the same or similar subject matter.”

Of the different efforts to legalize sports betting in California, one would require over $100 million in fees — a move experts say limits competition in what is forecasted to be a multi-billion dollar industry.

Four ballot measures to legalize sports wagering in California were proposed, but now it’s down to two and only one might face voters this year.

Grace covers California’s economy for CalMatters. Previously, she was an editor at the Washington Monthly. She is a graduate of Pomona College.