Bet on it: The California sports betting effort isn’t over yet

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LOS ANGELES — Efforts to legalize sports betting in California ran headlong into a challenge typical of competing electoral measures, as each was hit by a barrage of negative publicity that doomed both to spectacular failures in the costliest election race in US history.

Any time voters are faced with two policies that conflict with each other, they tend to reject both, said Professor David McCuan, chair of the department of political science at Sonoma State University.

“Whenever we have dueling electoral measures and the competitors have an arsenal of dollars … the competitors will go nuclear. And in a nuclear war, everyone loses,” McCuan said. “The most powerful money in California politics is on the ‘no’ side of the voting measures.”

The result was an election turnout for both.

With 5.3 million votes tallied on Wednesday, more than 80% of voters rejected a gambling industry initiative that would have allowed online and phone betting on sports. A tribal-backed measure that would have allowed gamblers to place sports bets at tribal casinos and Four Horse Tracks was rejected by 70% of voters.

But Tuesday’s election outcome isn’t a doomsday scenario for sports betting in California. With a potentially multi-billion dollar market in the nation’s most populous state, the stakes are simply too high for supporters to give up.

More than 30 other states now allow sports betting, but Californians are restricted to playing slots, poker and other games in Native American casinos and wagering at racetracks, card rooms and the state lottery.

Supporters of both measures declined to discuss details but said they were reassessing how to move forward to bring sports betting to the Golden State.

Jacob Mejia, vice president of public affairs at Pechanga, which has one of the largest casinos, said it was too early to say whether tribal gambling interests would seek cooperation with the legislature or go back to addressing voters directly.

“First we all have to respect the will of the voters and the message they sent last night,” Mejia said.

The Campaign to Support Online Betting issued a statement saying it remains committed to expanding sports betting in California.

“This campaign has underscored our determination that California joins more than half the country in legalizing safe and responsible online sports betting,” said the Yes on 27 campaign. “Californiaians deserve the benefits of a safe, responsible, regulated and taxed online sports betting market and we are committed to making it a reality here.”

A return to the legislature for a solution would require powerful tribes to sit down with their smaller peers, off-track betting operations, as well as enemies who operate card rooms and those looking to expand betting to mobile devices, McCuan said.

“The tribes have so much money and so many resources that they think they can take their toys and go home,” McCuan said. “That has raised some problems in finding a legislative solution.”

The origins of what became such a negative campaign, with voters being deluged with television ads at sporting events, on social media and in campaign mailers, began after multiple legislative efforts to legalize sports betting failed in Sacramento.

California tribes planned to launch an election campaign in 2020 but had to shelve that plan when the pandemic prevented collecting signatures needed to get them on the ballot.

Their measure – Proposition 26 – qualified for the vote this year, but they quickly shifted priorities to thwart Proposition 27 – the competing measure proposed by online gambling advocates.

“The tribes viewed this as the greatest threat to their self-sufficiency in a generation,” Mejia said. “These extra-state operators have attempted to masquerade Prop. 27 as a tribal-backed solution to homelessness, when in fact it was neither.”

Attack ads said that Proposition 27 would turn every cellphone, laptop, and tablet into a gaming device. They said it could not be adequately monitored to discourage children from betting, raising fears of creating a generation of gambling addicts.

Opponents of Proposition 26, led primarily by cardrooms that would lose out on any kind of sports betting, said the measure would empower wealthy tribes and give them a virtual monopoly on state gambling. The measure would also have allowed casinos to offer roulette and craps.

Both measures promised advantages for the state through tax revenues. Proposition 27 supporters have touted funds that would help homeless, mentally ill and poorer tribes excluded from the casino bonanza. Proposition 26 supporters said a 10% tax would fund enforcement of gambling laws and assistance programs to support gambling addicts.

Of the approximately $460 million raised for and against both measures, approximately $170 million benefited the online sports betting initiative, which is run by DraftKings, BetMGM, FanDuel – the latter is the official odds provider for The Associated Press – as well as other national sports is supported by bettors and a few tribes.

A coalition of tribes behind the No on 27 committee raised $116 million for his defeat. Of the $128 million raised by the tribal groups’ Yes ​​on 26, No on 27 committee, Mejia said its spending was mostly to prevent the online action and the group didn’t see a single TV ad in support of theirs own initiative.

Two groups funded primarily by cardrooms raised $44 million to attack Proposition 26.

The massive fundraiser more than doubled the previous 2020 record that has helped Uber, Lyft and other app-based ride-hailing and delivery services prevent drivers from becoming employees who are eligible for benefits and job protections.

With a burst of political advertising, voters are often put off, McCuan said.

“What California voters dislike is the vulgarity of having ads thrown in their faces at every turn,” he said. “It has this backlash effect.”


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