Examining “What If?” Scenarios In California Sports Betting Battle

Written By David Danzis on November 7, 2022
How the battle for CA sports betting may have changed

The post-mortem of California’s two failed sports betting proposals should be short and sweet. 

But, it won’t be. 

Over the next few days, lots of (proverbial) ink will likely be spent explaining how California sports betting went down in flames on Election Day. Gambling industry experts will be in high demand for quotes and analysis.

It’s really not complicated, though. Proposition 26 and Proposition 27 were seen as fundamentally flawed, and voters were overwhelmed with negative campaigning for the better part of 2022. 

A more intriguing thought exercise might be exploring missed opportunities and considering “what if?” scenarios that could have made a difference. Some of these are practical, some are just are fun. All are being presented with the benefit of hindsight.

Why will Prop 26 and Prop 27 likely fail?

Prop 26 and Prop 27 are not actually competing against one another. They are asking voters two different questions. 

In reality, the war between the two props is not about whether California should have in-person or online sports gambling. The 2022 ballot battle was really about who would control the market.

That’s where the Golden State missed out on a golden opportunity. If California tribal casinos and online sportsbook operators had found common ground early, it’s a pretty safe bet voters would have approved a joint proposal.

CA sports betting props rejected by politicians

Because Prop 26 and Prop 27 were self-serving and generally bad policy, neither received much political support.

Gov. Gavin Newsom defly avoided the topic of legal sports gambling until the waning days of the campaigns. When the writing was already on the wall that both props would likely fail, Newsom finally spoke out against Prop 27.

California’s Republican and Democratic parties also came out against Prop 27. The GOP rejected Prop 26, while the Dems opted to remain neutral.

Elected officials representing cities with legal cardrooms came out in opposition to Prop 26. Labor unions, special interest groups and smaller political operations all had their say as well, with varying degrees of support or opposition. 

Ultimately, it resulted in fractures among allied groups, strained relationships within communities and an overall apathy from the public.

A unified political push, in any direction, would have been much more effective.

Sports betting ads inundated the voters

The public was forced to watch or listen to sports betting ads on a near-daily basis.

Optimism, positivity and originality were in short supply during the 2022 sports betting campaigns. The consistent negative tone of the advertising blitz was tedious and boring.

With millions of dollars at their disposal, any of the campaigns could have used a little creativity to lighten the mood. After all, sports betting is supposed to be a fun, recreational activity. 

Maybe even a little humor could have eased the tension surrounding the two proposals.

The No on 27 team gets credit for trying, even if it was a tired cliche. It was a miss. Besides the ad’s disingenuous messaging, it was also a bit of a double-standard. Could you imagine the uproar if a political ad in 2022 stereotyped California tribes the way they did to New Yorkers and Bostonians

And where were the sports?

Another thing missing from the efforts to legalize sports betting in California was, well, sports. 

Major League Baseball put out a half-hearted endorsement for elements of the online sports gambling proposal. MLB has four teams (for now) who call California home. The state also has NFL, NBA/WNBA, NHL and MLS teams, not to mention dozens of collegiate athletic programs.

There’s no doubt the teams and stadiums/arenas/ballparks would have signed lucrative partnerships with online sportsbooks (as evident elsewhere with legal sports betting). So the absence of their support was noticeable.

Even bigger than teams and schools is the star power of California athletes. LeBron James could have appeared in a DraftKings commercial. Or Clayton Kershaw could have been pitching for Yaamava’ Resort Casino.

A former LA Kings hockey player once famously said: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” 

Safe to say both the tribes and operators whiffed on this one.

Photo by Shutterstock
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David Danzis

David Danzis is a lead writer and analyst for CatenaMedia's network of Play sites, appearing on PlayNJ, PlayCA and PlayOH. He is a New Jersey native and an honors graduate of Rutgers University. As a newspaper reporter for the New Jersey Herald and Press of Atlantic City, David earned statewide awards for his coverage of politics, government, education, sports, and business. After years of reporting on Atlantic City casinos, NJ online gambling and sports betting, his focus is now on emerging gaming markets. David lives in NJ with his wife and two children. When not on the beach, golf course, or snowboarding, David enjoys watching his beloved New York sports teams — Yankees, Jets, Rangers, and Knicks.

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