With just under four months until Election Day, the general consensus is that one — or both — of the California sports betting ballot questions could fail.
However, history suggests the smart money would be on California becoming the sixth state to permit sports betting via the voting booth. Legalized sports gambling initiatives are a perfect five-for-five in state elections.
The two most-recent statewide ballot proposals passed with double-digit margins of victory. Even the slimmest of ballot box wins came after a huge shift in favorable opinion among undecided voters.
The evidence suggests Golden State voters will approve legal, regulated sports betting on Tuesday, Nov. 8.
And yet, there is uncertainty about which way the electorate will go. Negative public messaging campaigns from the dueling sports betting initiatives are generating mixed results from public polling and industry experts.
Sports betting in California: The times, they are a-changin’
According to a recent Washington Post-University of Maryland poll, 66% of Americans approve of making betting on professional sporting events legal. That figure is up from 55% in 2017 and just 41% in 1993.
Widespread public support for legal sportsbooks pre-dates the federal court’s repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.
Nearly 64% of New Jersey voters backed the idea in 2011. The Garden State led the way in a multi-year legal battle all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ended with the fall of PASPA in 2018.
In the four years since, 30 states and Washington D.C. have allowed their residents to legally gamble on sports. Four of those states — Arkansas, Colorado, Maryland and South Dakota — launched legal sports betting as a result of voter approval.
Voters in Arkansas (54%), Maryland (67%) and South Dakota (58%) ensured easy wins for legalized sportsbooks.
Louisiana broke its ballot measures by parishes with 55 of the 64 parishes approving sports betting in 2020.
Rocky road for Mile High sports betting
Colorado’s path to legalized sports gambling in 2019 was bumpy by comparison. One year before the state’s elections, only 29% of voters were in favor of legalized sports betting, with nearly 40% undecided.
The final tally on Colorado’s ballot measure: 800,745 “Yes” votes and 756,712 “No” votes. The 51.41% to 48.59% result was the closest margin on a U.S. sports betting ballot initiative.
California sports betting’s chances this fall
Now, let’s consider where California stands ahead of November’s general election.
A February poll from the University of California Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies found that 45% of likely voters are in favor of legalized sports betting. Twenty-nine percent were undecided.
More recent polling shows greater opposition, specifically to online sports betting. According to those findings, nearly 51% of voters are against sports betting in California.
Native American tribes with a vested interest in one of the November ballot questions, Prop. 26, lauded the poll results. A second sports betting proposal, Prop. 27, is backed by online sportsbook operators.
The two factions are competing for what is expected to be the country’s largest and most lucrative sports betting market. Voters will have the final say on Election Day.