Californians are no strangers to extensive advertising campaigns on ballot measures. Spending for and against Props. 26 and 27 could break the bank this year. Less than four months before the election, attack ads on California sports betting initiatives are intensifying.
There are just seven measures on this November’s California ballot. Two of them pertain to legalizing California sports betting. It’s a market potentially worth billions of dollars in annual revenue.
The two measures are backed mainly by competing parties with conflicting interests. One side is mostly California tribes. The other is out-of-state sportsbook operators. Campaigns on both sides have already begun pulling out all the stops to secure enough support for their respective measures and enough opposition to cage the competition.
Prop. 26 supporters focus on opposing Prop. 27
The first of the two measures is Prop. 26. It would allow only in-person sports wagering at California casinos and California horse racing venues. The tribes’ monopoly on in-state casino gaming would expand to sports betting (as well as other games such as craps and roulette).
The tribes seem just as intent (if not more) on defeating the opposing sports betting measure, Prop. 27. It would permit out-of-state operators such as DraftKings, FanDuel and BetMGM to enter the market and offer mobile/online sports wagering.
One coalition of tribes (including the San Manuel, Rincon and Pala) in support of Prop. 26 calls itself Protect Tribal Gaming. It published a video at the end of June calling into question the motives behind Prop. 27.
Prop. 27’s stated focus is to address California’s homelessness problem. The coalition’s video disputed that.
“Corporate online sports betting. They didn’t write it for the homeless; they wrote it for themselves.”
An attack on tribal sovereignty
Another group, which includes the Pechanga, Yoha Dehe and Barona tribes, has also produced commercials. These ads echo the theme that out-of-state sportsbooks threaten tribal sovereignty.
In one, Beth Glasco of the Barona Band of Mission Indians says online sports betting would jeopardize gaming revenue that tribes rely on for schools, housing and health care.
In another, Kenneth Kahn of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians says tribal gaming is one of the most prominent reasons many of California’s tribes have become self-reliant. He says out-of-state operators present “a direct attack on tribal gaming and Indian self-reliance.”
Another ad says casino gaming has created over 180,000 jobs and advanced tribal self-sufficiency. According to these tribes, sports betting should fall under the “promise” that gives tribes exclusive gaming rights and Prop. 27 would threaten that promise.
Not all tribes oppose Prop. 27
While most tribes support Prop. 26 (and oppose Prop. 27), a few tribes back the online operator initiative.
Middletown Tribal Chairman Jose Simon represents one of three tribes that recently sided with Prop. 27. In a video ad, Simon calls Prop. 27, known also as the Solutions Act, a permanent solution to homelessness, mental health and addiction in California.
“Don’t believe the false attacks,” Simon says in the video by the Yes on 27 Campaign, funded mainly by DraftKings, BetMGM, and FanDuel.
In another ad, Simon touts Prop. 27’s requirement to give funds to financially disadvantaged tribes that don’t have casinos.
“Our land, our culture, our people once expansive. Now whittled down to a small community. Only one proposition supports California tribes like ours.”
Sides are fighting two battles
Those in favor of Props. 26 or 27 have two separate battles to fight:
- Win their respective proposition
- Defeat the opposition
As of July 7, $265 million had already been raised by the sides.
- Prop. 26: $83 million on Yes, $41 million on No
- Prop. 27: $100 million on Yes, $41 million on No
If Prop. 26 wins and Prop. 27 loses
If Prop. 26 wins and Prop. 27 loses, Californians will be able to legally bet on sports only in person at tribal casinos. The state’s sports betting economy will also remain within the tribes’ hands. Major sportsbooks will also stay outside California.
If Prop. 27 wins and Prop. 26 loses
A Prop. 27 victory and a Prop. 26 loss would allow online sports wagering operators to enter the market. Only 20 operators could do business in California. All of them would be required to also partner with a federally recognized Native American tribe.
Should this result occur, tribes would still retain full rights to all casino gaming operations just as they do now. They would also be able to develop their own platforms and compete with online sportsbooks if they don’t want to enter into a partnership.
If both propositions pass
One final possibility: both measures pass. Prop. 27 was written not to conflict with Prop. 26, meaning both measures could become law. If this happens, Californians would have more new legal betting options than they could have ever dreamed.
The tribes that oppose Prop. 27 primarily do so because they are concerned about losing exclusive rights to all forms of wagering. Should both measures pass, the tribes may also take to the courts to keep other sportsbooks out of California.