A legalized sports betting initiative proposal for next year's November election ballot was filed on Monday by a Southern California assemblyman, who said it could raise up to $100 million a year in new revenues for senior citizen programs, law enforcement and fire protection services.
"Today, right across three of California's four borders--in Nevada, at Tijuana, and now in Oregon--legal football betting is taking place," said Assemblyman Richard E. Floyd (D-Carson), who says he likes to gamble on football games but dislikes having to leave the state to do so. "We are exporting literally millions of California dollars that ought to be spent here."
Floyd's office reported $1.2 billion was wagered on professional and college football games in Nevada sports rooms in 1987. Oregon initiated lottery-style professional football card betting in September and took in $221,244 during the first week.
The National Football League is against the proposed legalized sports betting initiative. California Lottery officials said they have no position on it at this time.
"The NFL is unalterably opposed to any type of gambling on NFL games," said Jim Heffernan, the league's public relations director.
"No comment," said Joanne McNabb, communications director for the lottery, which probably would lose some business if the initiative is qualified and approved by the voters.
Law enforcement officials estimate that between $7 billion and $10 billion is illegally wagered on sporting events in California each year.
"Legalized, licensed sports betting would not only cut significantly into the revenues of the underworld," Floyd said, "but obviously add millions of dollars to our public treasuries."
The sponsor of the initiative, filed with the attorney general's office in the first step of the process, will need to obtain the valid signatures of 595,485 registered voters on petitions in order to qualify it for the ballot.
Floyd noted that voters approved the state lottery the first time it qualified for the ballot after the idea had been blocked in the Legislature for many years.
"Poll results show a close relationship between popular support for the lottery and for sports betting," he said.
Under the proposed initiative, legalized sports betting on all professional and college sporting events could take place at horse racing tracks and, subject to local approval, in licensed clubs. Betting on community college and high school sports would be prohibited.
A new state gaming commission would have jurisdiction over the sports betting system. Each betting facility would set its own wagering parameters and house rules. Athletes and managers who bet on their own sport would be subject to felony prosecution and up to three years in state prison upon conviction.
Floyd estimated that the state could receive up to $50 million a year from taxes on legal wagers for senior citizen programs, and local government could obtain another $50 million from tax revenues to help finance police, fire and other services.
He added that the $210.8 billion reaped annually by legalized gambling on a nationwide basis makes it the "hottest growth industry" in the U.S. economy of the 1980s. "I want California to share in that growth in the 1990s," Floyd said.
Unlike the state lottery, he said, the initiative would not put the state directly into the business of conducting gambling because it would only license private operators.
Floyd also dismissed the idea that the initiative could increase compulsive gambling. "You don't close supermarkets to combat overeating," he said. "The first step in helping compulsive bettors is to remove the stigma of criminality."