What’s next for sports betting in California? | Dan Walter |

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By and large, those promoting California’s ballot measures identify a problem — real or imagined — and attempt to persuade voters that their proposals would solve it.

Propositions 26 and 27, however, deviate significantly from this pattern. Instead, they want California voters to create new ways to waste their money betting on sporting events.

There are no popular claims for such opportunities. If there is an enthusiastic public for sports betting, it is probably young men who are the main patrons of online fantasy sports games.

Weak sports betting demand, along with ultra-confusing saturation advertisements for and against the two measures, is why both are almost certain to be voted out in the November 8 election.

Last week, the Public Policy Institute of California released a new statewide poll that found only 34% of likely voters favored Proposition 26, while an even lower number, 26 %, would vote for proposition 27.

The poll confirmed that if there is a constituency for sports betting, it is young adults – but they are also among the demographic subgroups least likely to vote.

Feeling that it had no chance of passing, the online betting companies that sponsor Proposition 27 began to scale back their campaign several weeks ago. Taking no chances, the casino-owning Indian tribes that put Proposition 26 on the ballot are still vying against Proposition 27, but the lack of an effective pro-Proposition 26 campaign also seems to doom it.

So, assuming the two are dismissed after spending more than half a billion dollars on losing campaigns, what happens next?

A brief review of what happened before this year’s high-value campaigns might be instructive.

In 2018, the United States Supreme Court struck down laws that banned sports betting and since then 35 states have legalized it in one form or another. Naturally, companies promoting it in other states have set their sights on California, the nation’s most populous state and therefore its biggest potential market.

Some effort has been made in the Legislature, but the casino-owning tribes, which now have a virtual monopoly on legal gambling in the state, have been adamantly opposed to anyone having access to gambler wallets.

With legislative efforts coming to nothing, the tribes proposed an initiative that eventually became Proposition 26, requiring that sports betting be conducted personally at their casinos or at four designated racetracks.

The online betting companies, led by FanDuel and DraftKings, then sponsored a rival measure that became Proposition 27, allowing bets to be placed via computer or mobile phone.

Some tribes briefly launched a third measure that would allow online betting they controlled, but this was dropped in favor of focusing resources on defeating Proposition 27.

The rejection of both measures would return the situation to what it was several years ago. The legislative route can be revived, but it is hard to see a path to success as long as the casino tribes insist on maintaining their monopoly.

However, the problem won’t go away just because sports betting in California is potentially a multi-billion dollar business, so it’s entirely possible, and even likely, that new measures will be proposed for the 2024 ballot.

The tribes would likely get rid of the in-person betting concept of Proposition 26 and seek a monopoly on online betting, similar to this year’s short-lived measure. It is also likely that casino tribes would seek accommodation with rural tribes that do not have casinos and would have benefited from Proposition 27.

Given the potential California market, any tribal action would likely generate another corporate effort as well. In other words, we could again be subject to competing campaigns.

CALmatters is a public interest journalism company committed to explaining how the California State Capitol works and why it matters. Dan Walters has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, spending most of those years working for California newspapers.

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