LAS VEGAS — Leaders of the two largest backers of online sports betting Proposition 27 all but admitted defeat Tuesday at the Global Gaming Expo (G2E).
Members of Indian tribes who opposed the measure reveled in the victory while warning sportsbook companies not to repeat their mistakes of this campaign.
DraftKings CEO Jason Robins and FanDuel CEO Amy Howe addressed the California effort during a keynote at G2E.
“I think the more time people in California get exposed to the messages and the more that they’re able to sift through what’s true and what’s not, I think you’ll see more momentum towards hopefully in ’24, and hopefully even in ’22, but probably more likely in ’24 that this is getting passed,” Robins said.
Howe, a Los Angeles resident, said it’s hard to imagine that the online sports betting landscape won’t eventually include California.
“We absolutely live to fight another day,” Howe said. “… We believe there is a path to get there. Whether we get there in ’22 or, hopefully, we get there in ’24, we believe it is the right path.”
Comments come after sports betting polling paints grim picture
The conceding comments from leaders of the two biggest sports betting companies by market share come despite nearly a month remaining before the Nov. 8 election.
But recent polling from the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies showed little chance of a comeback. Only 27% of likely voters surveyed said they would vote yes on Prop 27.
Proposition 26, the tribal in-person sports betting initiative, also appears headed to defeat with 31% support. But the tribes behind Prop 26 opted to focus their campaign against Prop 27 rather than for their own initiative.
But two tribal campaigns spent $240 million to defeat Prop 27. Combined, it’s the most expensive ballot question in the history of American politics.
Robins said he didn’t think running their campaign with a different message could have gotten the operators a better result against such spending by opposition.
“If an opposition side is going to spend over $100 million, it’s just tough to beat. It doesn’t matter what your issue is, it’s tough to beat. And going and trying to outspend that actually probably makes it worse because then people just get sick of seeing all the ads all the time.”
Tribal members bristle at comments
Speaking later in the day at a G2E panel on “California Sports Betting: Tribal Campaign Update,” Jacob Mejia responded to Howe’s quote about living to fight another day.
Mejia, vice president of public and external affairs for Pechanga and executive director of the Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations, took the comment as a sign that the sportsbook operators plan to fight for California sports betting again in 2024.
“My point would be this: If you come fight with the tribes, you’re losing,” Mejia said. “Period. That should be the biggest takeaway for them from this election. If you fight with the tribes, you’re losing.”
James Siva, chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association and vice chair for Morongo, repeated a quote from Richard Schuetz, a former California Gambling Control Commissioner. Scheutz told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the people behind Prop 27 should go to a tattoo parlor and get a “Memento”-style reminder never to underestimate the tribes again.
A California without sports betting
Although she did talk about fighting another day, Howe also said that it has always been the industry’s intention to find a solution that binds the stakeholders, including tribes, racetracks and consumers.
Robins spoke of how it appears California will be among the last states with legal sports betting. This for a state that usually takes the lead. As 2022 comes to a close, 36 states have legalized sports betting.
“It’s hard to imagine California not having [sports betting],” Robins said. “I mean, California is usually on the leading edge, not the last state to embrace new innovations.”
Mejia said that if operators want that to change in 2024, they should not again try to jam a measure through against tribal objections. They should let tribes determine how they want to move forward with sports betting.
“Give tribal leaders the space to have conversations,” Mejia said. “Don’t repeat the same mistake. Stay out of California. Respect the tribal conversations.”