Well, Actually… : Rebutting California Sports Betting Newspaper Editorials

Written By Steven Schult on September 28, 2022 - Last Updated on November 3, 2022
California sports betting

This fall, voters in the Golden State decide whether they want the ability to wager on sports in their state.

Two California sports betting ballot initiatives are up for a decision this November. Proposition 26 would legalize retail sports betting at select California horse tracks and tribal casinos. Meanwhile, Proposition 27 would legalize online betting and allow established online operators access to the California market.

There are hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on advertising these two ballot initiatives. Supporters of one proposal typically aren’t fond of the other. But nobody has shown a greater propensity to oppose both measures than the editorial boards of major California newspapers.

PlayCA staff writer Steve Friess debunked the arguments in the Los Angeles Times editorial regarding its opposition to the initiatives. Last week, we discussed why the Santa Rosa Press Democrat and the San Jose Mercury News missed the mark in their stance against them.

But there are still a ton of other outlets printing poorly crafted arguments or complete inaccuracies about the two initiatives. It’s hard not to turn into the guy from the ,“well, actually… ,” meme after reading them.

So, I might as well truly embody the image and take a deeper look at why two more newspapers are against the initiatives.

Sacramento Bee

The Bee is the flagship newspaper of The McClatchy Company and one of the oldest in California. The first issue was published in 1857, and it currently has a circulation of 122,600 daily and 225,343 on Sundays.

Those numbers make it the fifth-largest newspaper in the Golden State and the 27th largest paper in the country.

It falls in line with the other newspapers and is against the California sports betting ballot initiatives. The editorial staff published a piece three days ago explaining why they oppose the proposals.

Bad Argument #1: Access to online betting would have negative effects on society

Before we dive into this unfounded claim, it’s worth mentioning that the editorial board spent most of the article focused on Prop 27. They clearly stated that they oppose both initiatives, but the online initiative is the more concerning of the pair.

“Of the pair, Prop 27 is the more repugnant. It would dramatically expand the opportunities for and accessibility of gaming, and its attendant ills, to the benefit of online profiteers.”

The end of that line is the most important. The phrase “attendant ills” references negative societal effects like an increase in gambling addiction, which leads to a bump in the crime rate.

And they tie the sentence together by vilifying the operators. They imply that the DraftKings and FanDuel platforms of the world will get rich off those increases.

California sports betting Well, actually…

Entry-level journalism courses teach you about a writing style specific to the craft called “The Inverted Pyramid.”

It’s just a fancy term that means you should put all the important stuff at the top of the article. It’s the opposite of how your high school teachers wanted you to write an academic paper.

Do you remember that fluffy conclusion graph where you tied everything together? Yeah, that goes at the front. Tell me what’s important and then work backward.

Why? Mostly because we know that most people don’t read the whole article. Therefore, it’s important to get the relevant information at the beginning.

I’m not bringing this up because I want to give you a j-school primer. I just want you to realize how important it is that this is the first actual point they make against the proposal.

This should be the most important argument of the bunch. And it’s completely unfounded.

The Bee is falling into the same trap many competitors already have. Use the same fearmongering rhetoric used by anti-gambling groups without evidence that it’s true.

In the rebuttal to the San Jose Mercury News, I already detailed why this is false. Since I hate repeating myself, I’ll keep it brief this time.

According to the Reason Foundation, gambling addiction rates stayed relatively flat across the board since the 1970s. In other words, while the U.S. was undergoing massive gambling expansion over the last 50 years, there was no significant uptick in gambling addiction rates.

Additionally, no data from states with legal online betting indicates a link between online betting and gambling addiction. Essentially, their first argument is a completely baseless claim.

Bad argument #2: The proposition would “undermine tribal control of gambling”

The editorial staff makes its second point just one sentence after its first. They make another baseless claim that the tribes control the state’s gambling market.

“Meanwhile, it would generally undermine tribal control of gambling, which provides a small measure of recompenses for a long history of atrocities against the first Americans.”

Firstly, it must be noted the undertone of the argument is that the tribes deserve to have control of the market as a form of reparation. That position will vary based on worldviews, but the premise gives us a baseline for why they are making the argument.

Secondly, there’s a possibility that I’m being too literal and misinterpreting what they are saying. When I read “undermine tribal control of gambling,” I assume they mean the tribes are entitled to the whole industry.

Well, actually…

As the article points further down in the piece, gambling is enshrined in the California Constitution. According to the document, the tribes don’t “control” the state’s gambling market.

Both California tribal casinos and California cardrooms are permitted to spread games of chance. Tribal casinos can offer slot machines and card games, while cardrooms are only allowed to spread poker and other house-backed games.

However, the house-backed games are a point of contention with their tribal counterparts. It’s the reason Prop 26 gives the tribes the ability to sue cardrooms over the legality of games being spread.

Regardless, the idea that the proposal would undermine the tribe’s control implies they had it to begin with. And that isn’t true. Nothing in California law says the tribes should have control of the market.

Nor should anyone want that to happen. Take a look at the situation in Florida.

The Seminole Tribe has complete control of the casino market, and under the 2021 gaming compact, they were given an essential monopoly of the sports betting market. It’s a scenario that it sounds like The Bee would advocate for.

But the pari-mutuels, Florida’s version of California cardrooms, filed a lawsuit arguing the model was unfair. A federal judge agreed in November 2021, and the case is still tied up in the court system. There is no reason to wish this on California gamblers.

Furthermore, those cardrooms usually serve urban markets. If those were to disappear, large swaths of the nation’s largest state wouldn’t be able to gamble.

California sports betting tax revenueBad argument #3: Downplaying the estimated tax revenue and what it could do to help homelessness

The authors said that the tax revenue generated from Prop 27 was an “insignificant stream of funding for homelessness services.” They went on to say that the state didn’t even need the money.

“California doesn’t need more money to address homelessness; it needs policies that require the construction of enough housing and emergency shelter to bring tens of thousands of people indoors.”

Well, actually…

My first gripe with this segment comes from the verbiage they chose. It’s the same type of rhetoric used by some of the other papers used to downplay the amount of new tax revenue generated from the bill.

According to PlayCA’s sports betting projections, Prop 27 will generate about $200 million in tax revenue. The initiative earmarks 85% of that figure to help fight homelessness.

That’s about $170 million in additional funding to help fight California’s biggest problem. Not exactly a sum I’d call insignificant.

I’ll concede this much. California already plans to spend $12 billion on the problem over the next two years, according to ABC News. The additional $425 million won’t drastically alter the outcome.

But to say that mid-nine figures are insignificant seems like a stretch.

My concession aside, the overarching idea is that the state doesn’t need any more money. Instead, it must take the $12 billion and start building homes.

I can understand the argument. But SHELTER, Inc., a non-profit organization in Northern California aimed at helping solve the homelessness problem, endorsed the proposition.

Additionally, the group’s CEO, John Eckstrom, told PlayCA that Contra Costa County saw its homeless population rise by 35% in the last three years. Contra Costa County encompasses several prominent East Bay cities and boasts a population of more than 1.1 million people.

In his eyes, the extra money is worth the ‘yes’ vote. And I’m more apt to listen to him about what could help homelessness than the Sacramento Bee editorial board.

Bad argument #4: The legislators should do the work

The Bee borrowed another argument other papers made by claiming that this is a job for the lawmakers.

“Legislators must redouble their efforts to present an orderly solution to the electorate. They should ensure that the result respects the state’s agreements with and debt to Native Americans, strikes a balance among other competing interests, maximizes benefits to the public and minimizes the propensity to exacerbate gambling by people who can’t control or afford the habit. In other words, they should do their jobs.”

Well, actually…

The last time I rebutted this premise, I focused on the fact that lawmakers simply don’t know the gambling industry and shouldn’t be counted on to draw up the blueprint for it.

However, it’s also important to understand that given how large the California market is, and how many special interest groups will lobby to get their cut of it, it’s nearly impossible for sports betting to be passed through the legislature.

I understand that from an optics standpoint, it looks and feels better to have lawmakers craft a bill. But this is where the ugly side of politics rears its ugly head.

Who funds the campaigns for these legislators? The same special interest groups that are backing these ballot initiatives. It would be nearly impossible for elected officials to pass sports betting legislation because there are too many powerful groups fighting for a piece of a massive market.

In that scenario, these lawmakers essentially become proxy votes for their donors. A representative from a district with a tribal casino would push for a tribal monopoly. Those in districts with cardrooms wouldn’t ever want the tribe to have that kind of power.

Lastly, that entire quote asks for a perfect bill without offering any ideas on how to achieve those lofty goals. Just give me something resembling a proposal you would back. Otherwise, it just sounds like The Bee is whining.

The Orange County Register

With a circulation of about 80,000 daily, this is one of the biggest print outlets in all of California. Last month, the Santa Ana-based publication printed an article detailing why they were against Prop 26.

The article said it opposed Prop 27 as well, but that it would be detailed in a separate piece. They have yet to publish that article.

Bad argu… wait, what?

Let’s all give a round of applause to the editorial staff at the Orange County Register. The writers wrote one of the fairest criticisms of Prop 26.

The authors lay out two main reasons why they are against the proposal. Both are well-reasoned critiques.

They don’t want to give the tribes a monopoly over the market

“Prop 26 is an audaciously cynical measure – an effort by tribes to give themselves virtual monopoly control of sports betting in what is likely to be the nation’s largest sports betting market.”

This all seems reasonable to me. When California eventually legalizes sports betting, it will almost certainly be the largest market in the country.

Consequently, there is a lot of money at stake when trying to acquire the lion’s share of it. And why should one entity get to run the whole operation?

I know. It’s technically two when you factor in horse tracks. But by keeping outside competitors from entering the Golden State, those tribes can gain a ton financially.

It’s the same reason the Seminole Tribe wants the Florida gaming compact to pass. So that they can have control of the entire market. But monopolies don’t generally end up with a great user experience. And nobody in California wants to see the market flop because there aren’t enough consumer options.

Prop 26 would give tribes the ability to sue the cardrooms

“Prop 26 also allows ‘people or entities that believe someone is breaking these laws to file a civil lawsuit in state trial courts,’ the Legislative Analyst Office explains. Tribes will have the tools to harass their long-time competitors, cardrooms, by filing lawsuits challenging the legality of the games they offer.”

Fact check: true.

There’s nothing there for me to argue with. It’s a completely factual statement. All in all, well done, Orange County Register.

These letters to the editor, though…

I can’t let the Southern California paper off the hook without criticizing something. Since I can’t criticize their writers, I’ll take a dig at their readers.

Just two days ago, the newspaper published four letters to the editor, expressing their opposition to the initiatives. Here’s what Charles from Cypress had to say about the proposal:

“We will vote no on both of these. They are just trying to make money on sports betting and will tell us whatever they think we want to get our vote.”

Yes, Charles, it shouldn’t be news to you that sportsbooks want to make money from sports betting. They would also like you to vote ‘yes’ on their initiative.

Photo by Shutterstock / fizkes
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Steven Schult

Steve serves as managing editor for PlayCA and a handful of other sites across Catena Media. The New York native is a veteran of the gambling world. He started covering high-stakes tournaments in 2009 for some of poker's most prominent media outlets before adding the broader US gaming market to his beat in 2018.

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