It appears online sports betting Prop 27 will go down in a crushing, blowout defeat in next week’s election. But there was a point that the ballot measure from sportsbook operators seemed to have momentum.
The sportsbooks launched their campaign around three Indian tribes breaking ranks to support their California sports betting initiative.
Then the campaign put up billboards around the state boldly claiming “California tribes say Yes on Prop 27.”
This called attention to where tribes stood on the initiative. Although there were two well-funded tribal campaigns opposing Prop 27, they totaled less than 30 tribes.
There were about 80 neutral tribes, and the sportsbooks had just nabbed three of them. Maybe more were on their way.
Instead, the billboard ended up being a rallying cry for tribes to unite against Prop 27.
Tribal opposition to Prop 27 more than doubled after billboard
Quickly following the billboards, the coalitions opposing Prop 27 noticeably grew in size. Now, 63 tribes oppose Prop 27 between the two coalitions. And Prop 27 never got another tribe to support it publicly.
“As soon as they put up that billboard trying pit small tribes and big tribes, virtually all tribes saw what they were trying to do and swelled support against Prop 27,” said James Siva, chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association. “Tribes moved for unity understanding what was at risk here and the length the other side will go to. It really helped solidify tribal opposition to their proposition.”
Jacob Mejia, vice president of public and external affairs for the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, said tribal leaders reached out to him to join the coalition as a direct result of the billboards.
“That was a turning moment for the campaign. I got more phone calls, more interest and support, even more funding because of those billboards. So whoever’s idea that was, thank you.”
Pechanga and San Manuel Band of Mission Indians also were running very separate campaigns early on. But the billboards helped inspire them to better coordinate their opposition.
Why the billboards offended tribes
A lot of rural, limited- and non-gaming tribes didn’t see any reason to take sides on the competing initiatives. It wasn’t their fight.
But when these billboards started popping up around their reservations, they took notice.
“They were deeply offensive,” Mejia said. “You have tribal members saying, ‘what’s this all about?,’ calling tribal leaders, getting them engaged and fired up.”
Faced with advertisements that they support Prop 27, they felt compelled to clarify that they stand with other tribes opposing the measure.
Sara Dutschke, chairwoman of the non-gaming Ione Band of Miwoke Indians, explained:
“The proponents of Prop 27 could not be any more different than Indian tribes. They are corporate interests concerned with profits and not people. While they withdraw their profits from California back to New York, Boston, Vegas, Europe and other jurisdictions, California Indian tribes will never leave this state. And neither will the benefits that tribal gaming brings.”