Tribal Polling Shows Voters Oppose Online Sports Wagering, Operator Initiative

Written By Matthew Kredell on November 24, 2021

According to a new poll commissioned by a Native American tribal coalition, California voters strongly oppose legalizing online sports betting.

PlayCA obtained a polling memo put together by FM3 Research and EMC Research after conducting two surveys in November related to the mobile sports betting measure backed by sportsbook operators.

However, the polling indicates only 37% of voters support “legalizing online and mobile sports wagering via smartphone apps, tablets, and computers.” In comparison to 51% in opposition.

Using the wording “allowing online gaming corporations to offer online and mobile sports wagering via smartphone apps, tablets, and computers,” support shrinks to 29%. Opposition grows to 60%.

According to internal polling, backers of the retail-only tribal initiative long have said California voters opposed online sports betting. But this is the first time the coalition made such polling public.

Kathy Fairbanks, a spokeswoman for the tribal coalition supporting the already qualified measure, told PlayCA:

“It becomes clear as we go through the poll that voters are most concerned about the possibility of online sports wagering. What we’ve seen going back a number of months is the online component is a problem with California voters right now. Yes, people are doing more things on their phones, but voters are still concerned about things like underage gambling and problem gambling.”

Proposed operator initiative fairs poorly in polls

Online opposition leads to the gloomiest outlook for the measure backed by seven of the biggest sports betting companies.

The FM3 survey is the only known poll to present voters with the full title and summary for the operator initiative crafted by the California Attorney General on Nov. 4. It showed initial voter support of 39% compared to 50% opposed.

The EMC Survey, presenting the operator initiative as it might appear on a ballot, showed 44% support and 54% opposition.

After presenting voters with an equal set of arguments in favor and against the measure, opposition grew. The FM3 survey showed 28% would vote yes and 63% would vote no. The EMC survey showed 32% in favor and 66% opposed.

These numbers paint a more difficult path forward for the operator initiative than polling released last week by San Manuel. In September, That poll initially showed soft support for the operator measure before bringing up criticisms.

Furthermore, the operator’s campaign introduced polling in July, showing 62% of voters supporting its measure. That polling put funding for programs supporting the homeless and mental health more upfront than the official title and summary.

“Our polling shows consistent opposition to the online operator’s measure, even when trying to sell it as a homeless solution,” Fairbanks said.

“Once voters figure out its online sports wagering, they turn against it, and nothing brings them back.

Background of newest sports betting polls

These are the most recent polls conducted on sports betting legalization efforts in California.

FM3 ran its survey Nov. 13 to 19, interviewing 806 potential voters. The EMC survey of 1,000 people took place Nov. 10 to 14.

Interviews took place over the phone and online with email and text invitations. Surveying took place in English and Spanish.

FM3 Research is a California-based company with extensive polling related to ballot measure campaigns. EMC Research operates in five states, including California, and Washington, DC.

The sports betting initiative filed this month by San Manuel and three other tribes weren’t included in the surveys. However, the polling does call into question that initiative’s inclusion of online wagering.

Are operator-backed sports betting initiatives in trouble?

It’s safe to say the past couple of months haven’t gone as expected for the mobile sports wagering measure led by BetMGM, DraftKings, and FanDuel.

The operators wrote their initiative so that all California online sports betting must go through Indian tribes. They hoped some tribes would embrace their initiative. They even presented their initiative last week at the National Indian Gaming Association Conference.

Instead, tribal coalitions making up 43 tribes announced their opposition to the operator measure. Then some tribes filed their sports betting initiative with mobile wagering. And now tribes released three polls indicating vulnerabilities in the operator effort.

Ultimately, the pollsters from FM3/EMC came to the same conclusion as those from ALG Research. The operator initiative is vulnerable to the sort of criticisms it will face from an opposition campaign.

“They’ve got $100 million in the bank right now, but, even if they doubled it to $200 million, they’re in deep trouble because of the concern about online and mobile gambling,” Fairbanks said. “A well-funded opposition campaign to educate voters on what this is will go a long way to sinking this initiative.”

Nathan Click, a spokesman for the operator campaign, responded to the latest polling:

“Our measure has momentum, and the cascade of press releases with incomplete polls and leaked internal memos in opposition to our measure only underscores that reality. Not only does our own polling show our measure has broad public appeal, but our measure has won support from non-profit leaders and mayors because it provides real, tangible solutions for our state’s most vexing challenges.”

Photo by Niyazz / Shutterstock.com
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Matthew Kredell

Matthew has covered efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling since 2007. His reporting on the legalization of sports betting began in 2010 with an article for Playboy Magazine on how the NFL was pushing US money overseas by fighting the expansion of regulated sports betting. A USC journalism alum, Matt started his career as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News and has written on a variety of topics for Playboy, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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