SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) - California voters would decide the future of legal sports betting in the Golden State under a constitutional amendment introduced Thursday by a state lawmaker.
The proposal by Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, calls for a statewide referendum on the issue of legalizing sports gambling. Gray's bill could only take effect if federal laws on sports gambling are changed, and hinges on an upcoming sports-betting lawsuit scheduled to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Gray, who has pushed for legalizing online poker and daily fantasy sports, says Californians are already betting on sports through "unscrupulous websites" and that it's time for the state to get in on the lucrative underground business.
"It is time to bring this multibillion dollar industry out of the shadows," Gray said in a statement. "We need to crack down on illegal and unregulated online gaming and replace it with a safe and responsible option which includes safeguards against compulsive and underage gambling, money laundering and fraud."
In order for the bill to reach voters, it would have to be approved by a two-thirds majority in each statehouse.
The proposal, Assembly Constitutional Amendment 18, comes less than a month after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the state of New Jersey's sports-betting lawsuit. The high court granted New Jersey's petition on June 27 over a recommendation by the U.S. solicitor general that it not hear the case.
New Jersey has been fighting the Amateur Sports Protection Act, PASPA, and wants to allow land-based sports betting. The state passed sports betting in 2014, but its legalization efforts have been stymied by lawsuits brought by major North American sports organizations like Major League Baseball and the National Football League.
California currently allows some forms of gambling, including horse racing, table games and slot machines at Indian casinos.
By legalizing sports betting, the nation's most populous state - nearly 40 million residents - could set itself up for a major windfall. Gray points to recent reports estimating that $400 billion is illegally wagered on sports in the United States annually.
"All other gaming activities in California are subject to regulations that ensure the safety of consumers. Sports wagering should be treated no differently," Gray added.