Major League Baseball on Friday became the first professional sports league to stand up in support of California’s Proposition 27, the statewide mobile wagering initiative that will be on the November ballot. The statement capped a week of opposition press releases featuring California state lawmakers, two education groups, and a homelessness advocate group.
MLB‘s statement focuses on the integrity standards included in the initiative, which stops short of requiring the use of official league data.
“As legalized sports betting continues to expand across the country, Major League Baseball remains committed to protecting the integrity of its games and creating a safe experience for fans who wish to wager on those games,” read a statement sent to media Friday morning. “Proposition 27 –– the only measure on California’s upcoming ballot that would authorize and regulate online sports betting –– includes strong integrity provisions designed to help MLB carry out those commitments.”
Proposition 27 is one of two sports betting initiatives that will be on the November ballot. It is backed by a coalition of seven companies — Bally’s, BetMGM, DraftKings, Fanatics, FanDuel, PENN Entertainment/Barstool Sportsbook, and WynnBET — and would legalize statewide mobile betting with platforms tethered to tribal casinos. The initiative would allow for more than 60 digital platforms, should it pass and every gaming tribe in the state choose to participate. The other initiative, Proposition 26, would allow only for retail wagering at tribal casinos and four horse racetracks and is backed by a broad coalition of California tribes.
Proposition 27 has been under fire
Over the last few months, Proposition 27 has faced public opposition as civic groups, lawmakers, and many others in California have chosen to lend their support to the state’s tribes, who have exclusivity to gaming in California and say that Proposition 27 challenges their sovereignty.
Earlier this week, the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California said Proposition 27 is
“full of loopholes and deductions that will only benefit the online sports betting operators that will take their profits out of state and away from our Native American tribes” while lawmakers focused on the perceived threat to tribal sovereignty should the initiative pass. Meanwhile, two educators’ groups said Proposition 27 would give “youth unprecedented access to gambling.”
Prop 27 would let out-of-state online gambling companies suck hundreds of millions out of California and threaten the economy of California tribes. Vote no! https://t.co/4VL3PXQfci pic.twitter.com/Z5ecMZn2J5
— Alfred Twu (@alfred_twu) July 10, 2022
There are two “No on 27” campaigns, both backed by tribal interests and both of which have been prolific over the summer in terms of press releases and signing up local groups to oppose the measure. MLB’s support of the initiative is the first of its kind, and the league joins a group of three Indian tribes that broke off from the vast majority of their peers to support the operators’ proposal.
“We appreciate Major League Baseball’s strong support for the sports integrity provisions of Prop. 27,” a Proposition 27 spokesman wrote in a text. “Prop. 27 is the only measure that creates permanent solutions to homelessness and mental health for Californians, and it does so by creating a safe and responsible online sports [betting] market that is already working in more than half the country.”
MLB, pro leagues now embrace betting
Bill Pascrell III, a partner in Princeton Public Affairs, said, “It’s far more important to have secured major interest groups that deliver voters” like the ones mentioned above than to have the backing of a pro sports league — unless that league is just the first of many. Otherwise, he doesn’t see where voters are looking to MLB for direction or that the announcement “will move the dial.”
But Major League Baseball’s support could translate into more support from professional sports, though as yet, the NFL, NBA, and NHL have remained mum on the subject. Of interest is that professional sports leagues had long been opposed to legal wagering, and, in fact, lobbied against the Supreme Court overturning the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in 2018. Since then, the leagues have walked a pathway from cautious support and an insistence on an “integrity fee” and the use of official league data to settle bets to all-out support as they begin to understand and reap the financial benefits of legal wagering.
So far, more than 35 U.S. jurisdictions have legalized and the leagues have successfully lobbied to get an official league data mandate in seven of them, most recently in Massachusetts.
“It’s amazing that in the course of five years, you have MLB go from a hard ‘no’ to an enthusiastic ‘yes’ to support sports betting in California, the swing and a miss on integrity fees to a swing for the fences in fan engagement and sponsorships,” said Las Vegas-based consultant Brendan Bussmann of B Global.
California has two sports betting ballot initiatives up for vote this fall.
— Adam Rosenberg (@HeyRosenberg) August 5, 2022
Though Proposition 27 does not include an official league data mandate, MLB in its statement was clear that it is comfortable with the provisions made to protect the integrity of the game.
“The measure would, for example, (1) require sportsbook operators to notify leagues of suspicious wagering activity, (2) allow leagues to propose restrictions on betting markets that are particularly susceptible to manipulation, and (3) facilitate other forms of integrity-related cooperation between the state, leagues, and operators,” reads the statement. “MLB believes that Prop 27 has the safeguards to create a safe and responsible online sports betting market in California –– a state with millions of MLB fans looking for alternatives to illegal offshore betting sites.”
MLB did not offer support or opposition to Proposition 26, which would legalize in-person betting only. The state’s card rooms, however, continued to push back on that proposal this week, adding the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees to its opposition roster. The group claims the initiative will result in local card rooms being shuttered and job loss.
It appears that voters could pass both initiatives, and Proposition 27 does have “complementary” language in it. Proposition 27 deals with mobile wagering only while Proposition 26 deals only with retail betting, and tribal casinos are a key component of both proposals.