Golden State voters will decide the fate of California sports betting at the polls in November.
But the battle for favorable public opinion is well underway.
In the balance lies what gambling experts predict could be the most lucrative legal sports betting market in the United States.
With the potential for as many as four California sports betting ballot measures, the various factions behind the proposals are jockeying for support. Opposing sides say there are willing to spend $100 million to win.
It’s a safe bet Californians will be overwhelmed with gambling-related propaganda between now and Nov. 8.
Just recently, the public got a glimpse of what’s to come.
The first salvo came from several Native American tribes who debuted a television commercial against “out-of-state” corporations.
Days later, California cardroom representatives said the tribal proposal would hurt local communities.
California sports betting primed to be modern-day Gold Rush
As the most populous state, California could easily become the country’s largest sports gambling market. As a result, tribes, card clubs and online gambling companies are all vying for control.
Some estimates suggest the potential revenue from sports wagering could be as much as $3 billion per year.
But those numbers depend on which proposal(s) voters approve.
The choices range from land-based sportsbooks to online sports betting to a hybrid model.
So far, only a tribal-backed proposal for retail sports betting has qualified for this year’s election. The other proposals need more signatures to appear on the ballot. The deadline for petitions is June 30.
With nearly 45% of voters saying they support legalizing and regulating sports betting in California, at least one of the ballot measures is likely to pass.
Breaking ‘the promise’ of tribal sovereignty
Three California tribes recently unveiled a new 30-second commercial against an operator-backed proposal for online sports betting.
FanDuel and DraftKings, two of the largest U.S. sports betting operators, are singled out in the spot and portrayed as outsiders.
Here’s what the commercial said:
“When voters granted our sovereign nations exclusive gaming rights, it advanced self-sufficiency and created thousands of good jobs. But now, out-of-state corporations are coming to California. Their online sports betting initiative would break the promise between us. It’s bad for Tribes and all Californians.”
The spot is funded by Californians for Tribal Sovereignty and Safe Gaming, a group that includes:
- The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians
- The Rincon Band of Luisueño Indians
- Wilton Rancheria
The San Manuel tribe owns and operates the Yaamava’ Resort & Casino at San Manuel outside Los Angeles. In 2021, the tribe bought the Palms Casino in Las Vegas for $650 million.
Cardroom cities decry bad hand in California sports betting battle
Shortly after, nearly 80 California cities and local officials representing the host municipalities of cardrooms released their own statement.
They claim the tribal proposal contains a “poison pill” that would cause $5.5 billion in lost economic activity. The group estimates it could result in the elimination of 32,000 jobs and $500 million in tax revenue.
Here’s what City of Commerce Mayor Leonard Mendoza said in a statement:
“Cities across California oppose the qualified tribal gaming initiative because it is the only sports wagering measure that will cause direct harm to our ability to fund the services and opportunities our residents rely on — from parks and recreation to police and fire.”
Marcel Rodarte, the California Contract Cities Association executive director, said the non-profit “overwhelmingly voted to oppose the qualified tribal gaming initiative as it will not benefit our residents or communities.”