Opinion: Tribes Playing Politics With California Sports Betting Position

Written By David Danzis on May 20, 2022 - Last Updated on August 22, 2022
Opinion CA OSB

In November, California voters will go to the polls and decide whether legal, regulated sports betting should be permitted within the state’s borders. The possibility of the nation’s largest — and most lucrative — sports gambling market hangs in the balance.

Voters also hold all the cards in choosing the way, or ways, in which those sports wagers may be placed.

The model for California sports betting could start as retail only or a hybrid of in-person and mobile betting. Or voters might reject both options this year and consider alternatives in future elections.

Whatever the people of California elect to do on Nov. 8, the hope is that their decisions are made using accurate information delivered to them in good faith.

Unfortunately, that rarely happens in politics. The public messaging behind political campaigns is often intentionally misleading and disingenuous.

Poli-tricks on full display in California online sports betting battle

A great example is this opinion piece from February outlining concerns raised by certain Native American tribes should California voters approve online sports betting.

The argument is that online gambling is harmful and Californians are too smart to allow that to happen.

At best, that position is hyperbolic and, at worst, somewhat hypocritical.

Whether online or in-person, any form of gambling carries an inherent risk. The pitfalls of problem gambling behaviors existed long before iGaming, and casino operators — including dozens of tribes throughout the U.S. — have been more than willing to reap the financial benefits.

Okay for thee but not for me?

Multiple casino-owning tribes are currently operating online gambling products or partnering with the same sports betting companies being demonized in California.

And who could blame them? Online gambling, including poker, casino, and sports wagering, is growing and expanding faster than brick-and-mortar gaming.

Does anyone honestly believe casino-operating tribes in California have no interest in online gambling? Of course they do, which is why San Manuel is already eyeing an online sports betting ballot measure in 2024.

Let it marinate a little more before throwing it on the grill

The opinion piece cites a survey that found online sports bettors are at an increased risk of developing problem gambling behaviors. That is a valid concern.

But context is important.

Online sports gambling has only been legal since 2018. Online casino gambling is only available in six states, with New Jersey being the first to launch in 2013. Comparatively, in-person gambling has been legal in Nevada for over 90 years and in N.J. for 44 years.

It is a bit premature to make any definitive conclusions about the long-term effects of online gambling.

Conveniently, the opinion piece made no mention of the same survey concluding, “most who gamble appear to do so without negative consequences.”

The National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that 1% of the U.S. population (about 2 million people) meet the criteria for severe gambling problems. Another 4 to 6 million people are considered to have mild or moderate gambling problems.

Almost 49% of the U.S. adult population (roughly 124 million people) planned to visit a casino in 2019, according to the American Gaming Association.

Reefer Madness mindset is alive and well

However, the most troubling aspect of the anti-online gambling opinion piece is the suggestion that underage gambling might become a widespread issue. There is no evidence to support the idea that it is a common problem. Anywhere. Ever.

It is a fear-mongering tactic better suited for “Reefer Madness” than an above-board discussion about sports wagering.

This is not to suggest online sports gambling is completely safe. It would be foolish of anyone to portray any form of gambling as such. Compulsive gambling is a serious concern for many people in the United States.

The gambling industry recognizes that fact and, to its credit, is taking steps to address the issue. Online gambling operators, in particular, have embraced several ways to curtail problem gambling, including self-exclusion, betting limits and, most recently, two-factor authentication to prevent unintended access to mobile apps.

Not-so-breaking-news: Online sports betting fight in California is all about money

Candidly, both sports betting initiatives that will appear on the California General Election ballot this fall are flawed. Neither is a perfect model for sports betting in California.

But let’s not kid ourselves. This is about money. Lots and lots of money.

No one can fault California Native American tribes or for-profit corporations for wanting a piece of the action. But taking the position that online sports betting would be a net negative for California is simply not accurate.

As evident in other states, online gambling and sports betting have generated millions of dollars in tax revenue for communities and social service programs, creating thousands of new jobs in a growing sector. In New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan, online gambling was a figurative life preserver as the pandemic disrupted brick-and-mortar casinos for many, many months.

Over 20 states now offer legal online sports betting since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act four years ago. The sky is not falling in any of those states.

Rather than debating the merits of a well-established, highly-regulated product, like online sportsbooks, it would be a better use of time to find a common-sense solution that works best for California.

David Danzis is the managing editor of PlayCA and lead writer/analyst for PlayNJ. 

David Danzis Avatar
Written by
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.

View all posts by David Danzis
Privacy Policy