By Ells Boone and Alex Wei
Once largely frowned upon nationwide, sports betting has taken over the country in the last few years. Today it is nearly impossible to watch a game on TV, scroll through social media, or follow your favorite sports team without seeing an advertisement for a sports betting company and being fed the points spread for a specific game. However, California voters are not ready to legalize this new normal.
There were two sports betting measures on the statewide ballot Tuesday. Proposition 26 would have allowed in-person wagering only at the 62 Native American tribal casinos and four horse racetracks in California. Tribal casinos would also have been able to add dice games and roulette in addition to their current offerings. Proposition 27 would have legalized mobile and online sports betting on sites such as DraftKings, FanDuel, and BetMGM. That measure would also have required each company launching an app in California to partner with a tribal government.
Although some votes were still to be counted, Propositions 27 and 26 were getting resounding no’s from voters.
Illegal for a long time in the United States, the Supreme Court in 2018 struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992. The court’s ruling in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association paved the way for sports betting to be legalized by individual states. In the four years since then, l30 states and Washington, D.C. have made betting on sports legal.
California, with the nation’s largest population, represented an untapped market for betting companies.
According to data published by the San Francisco Chronicle, this was the most expensive ballot fight in state history. About $121 million was raised in support of Proposition 26, with $44 million in opposition. About $169 million was raised for the Proposition 27 effort, and a whopping $238 million to oppose it.
Even though both propositions would have been able to coexist in legislation if approved, the campaign battle quickly turned into a Proposition 26 vs. Proposition 27 debate. DraftKings ran ads against Proposition 26, while Native American tribes put their money into No on 27 campaigns. These efforts, among others, confused voters and muddied perceptions on the two measures.
Not every tribe supported Proposition 26 over 27, however. The Big Valley Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians, along with the Middletown Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians, supported Proposition 27 since neither tribe has a major casino.
With both propositions having been soundly rejected, California bettors will likely have to wait until the next election cycle to revisit the issue. The CEO of DraftKings, Jason Robins, has already called for another try in 2024.
California remains critical to the future of the sports betting industry, and national gambling operators will continue to try to penetrate the market. However, California’s strong rejection of Proposition 27 may have shown that tribes have more power than multibillion-dollar corporations.
Tribes which saw Proposition 27 as a threat to their gaming exclusivity will likely remain hostile towards legalizing online sports gambling. They will also continue to lobby for Proposition 26, as this election cycle has solidified tribes’ belief that voters support them and believe they have been responsible casino hosts in California.
Photo purchased from AP Images