By BRIAN MELLEY Associated Press
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The effort to legalize sports betting in California ran into a typical challenge for competing ballot measures, as each was hit by a torrent of negative publicity that doomed both to spectacular failure in the costliest electoral contest in the history of the United States.
Whenever voters are faced with two measures at odds with each other, they tend to reject both, said Professor David McCuan, chair of Sonoma State University’s political science department.
“As long as we have dueling voting measures, and competitors have an arsenal of dollars…competitors will go nuclear. And in a nuclear war, everyone loses,” McCuan said. “The most powerful money in California politics is on the ‘No’ side of ballot measures.”
The result was a beating at the polls for both.
With 5.3 million votes counted on Wednesday, more than 80% of voters rejected a gaming industry effort that would have allowed online and telephone sports betting. 70% of voters opposed a measure supported by Native American tribes that would have allowed players to place sports bets at tribal casinos and four racetracks.
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But the outcome of Tuesday’s election is not a doomsday scenario for sports betting in California. With what could be a billion-dollar market in the nation’s most populous state, the stakes are simply too high for supporters to give up.
More than 30 other states now allow sports betting, but Californians are limited to playing slots, poker and other games at Native American casinos, and gambling at racetracks, card rooms and the state lottery.
Supporters of both measures did not discuss the details, but said they were reevaluating how to move forward in bringing sports betting to the Golden State.
Jacob Mejia, vice president of public affairs for Pechanga, which has one of the largest casinos, said it’s too early to say whether tribal gaming interests would try to work with the Legislature or go directly to voters again.
“First, we must all respect the will of the voters and the message they sent last night,” Mejía said.
The campaign in support of online gambling released a statement saying it remained committed to expanding sports betting in California.
“This campaign has underscored our determination that California follows more than half the country in legalizing safe and responsible online sports betting,” said the Yes on 27 campaign. “Californians deserve the benefits of a market for safe, responsible, regulated and taxable online sports betting, and we are determined to make it happen here.”
Going back to the Legislature for a solution would require powerful tribes to sit down with their smaller peers, backcountry betting operations, as well as enemies who operate card rooms and those who want to expand betting to mobile devices. McCuan said.
“The tribes have so much money and so many resources that they think they could just take their toys and go home,” McCuan said. “That has presented some problems in finding a legislative solution.”
The origin of what became such a negative campaign with voters inundated with ads on television during sporting events, on social media, and in campaign mailers, began after several legislative efforts to allow sports betting in Sacramento failed. .
California tribes planned to launch an election campaign in 2020, but had to shelve that plan when the pandemic prevented the collection of signatures needed to put it on the ballot.
Their measure, Proposition 26, qualified for this year’s ballot, but they quickly shifted priorities to defeat Proposition 27, the competing measure put forth by online gambling advocates.
“The tribes saw this as the biggest threat to their self-sufficiency in a generation,” Mejía said. “These out-of-state operators tried to masquerade Prop. 27 as a tribal-supported solution for homelessness, when in fact it was neither.”
The attack ads said Prop 27 would turn every cell phone, laptop, and tablet into a gaming device. They said it could not be adequately monitored to prevent children from gambling and raised fears of creating a generation of gambling addicts.
Opponents of Proposition 26, led primarily by gaming halls that stand to lose any type of sports bet, said the measure would increase the power of wealthy tribes and give them a virtual monopoly on gambling in the state. The measure would also have allowed casinos to offer roulette and craps.
Both measures promised to bring benefits to the state through tax revenue. Proposition 27 supporters touted funds that would go to help the homeless, the mentally ill and poorer tribes left out of the casino boom. Supporters of Proposition 26 said a 10% tax would fund gambling enforcement and support programs to help gambling addicts.
Of the roughly $460 million raised for and against both measures, around $170 million went to support the DraftKings-backed online sports betting initiative, BetMGM, FanDuel, the latter being the official odds provider for The Associated Press, as well as other national sports. gambling operators and some tribes.
A coalition of tribes behind the No on 27 committee raised $116 million for its defeat. Of the $128 million raised by the Yes on 26, No on 27 committee from tribal groups, Mejia said his spending was primarily to defeat the measure online and that the group did not run a single television ad in support of its own initiative.
Two groups funded primarily by gambling halls raised $44 million to attack Proposition 26.
Mass fundraising more than doubled. the previous record in 2020 that helped Uber, Lyft and other app-based transportation and delivery services to prevent drivers from becoming eligible employees for benefits and job protection.
With an explosion in political advertising, voters often end up being turned away, McCuan said.
“What California voters object to is the vulgarity of having campaign ads thrown in their faces at all times,” he said. “It has that backlash effect.”
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