The nation’s most populous state can officially prepare for what promises to be the nation’s biggest advertising and marketing battle over legal sports betting.
On Monday night, the California Secretary of State’s Office officially reclassified the “California Solutions to Homeless and Mental Health Solutions Act” as an “eligible statewide ballot measure,” meaning there will be two legal sports betting options on the ballot — and both could pass.
The measure, which earmarks most tax dollars for combating the state’s burgeoning homeless problem, is backed by a coalition of seven major sports betting companies that have already put $100 million behind the effort.
Within hours of the move, a tribal-led group opposing legal digital wagering was already voicing its opposition while promising to push forward with a retail-only, tribal-only initiative that qualified for the ballot in 2021.
“The corporate online gambling proposition would legalize online and mobile sports gambling — turning virtually every cellphone, laptop, tablet, and gaming console into a gambling device, increasing the risks of underage and problem gambling,” Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation Tribal Chairman Cody Martinez said via press release. “We will run a vigorous campaign against this measure and are confident the voters will see through the deceptive promises being made by these out-of-state gambling corporations.”
Operators promise homelessness funding
A coalition of California tribes in 2021 became the first to qualify a sports betting initiative for the ballot. The proposal — one of four that surfaced over the last several years — would allow for in-person sports betting at tribal casinos and four horse racetracks across the state.
The proposal would allow for statewide mobile wagering with platforms tied to tribal casinos. The operators have spent about $25 million of the $100 million they staked their political committee with and have promised to double their contributions, if needed, to win referendum passage. The tribal proposal does not address mobile wagering, and the operators’ proposal does not address retail betting, and voters could approve both. In California, a simple majority is needed for most initiatives to pass.
California Voters Face Confusion Over Two Competing Sports Betting Initiatives. One would expand tribal casinos gambling offerings, the other would legalize online sports betting. https://t.co/DzoGiSpuaY
— LarryEdwards (@LarryEdwards) June 27, 2022
“This initiative is a critical step forward. Dedicating revenue to the issue of homelessness is a win-win for our state. It would provide an ongoing funding source of hundreds of millions of dollars each year to fight homelessness and provide mental health services to those most in need,” Tamera Kohler, CEO of the Regional Task Force on Homelessness for the San Diego area, said in an email.
Backers of the operators’ proposal are promising “hundreds of millions of dollars” per year in revenue to the state to fight homelessness, and the initiative is very specific in how those funds would be spent.
Five other states have legalized by ballot
Tribal groups around California have been vocal in their opposition to allowing “out-of-state operators” to have a hand in wagering in the state. California’s tribes have had a monopoly on gaming in the state for more than three decades and will fight to preserve that monopoly. Other entities, from the NAACP to teachers’ groups to law enforcement, have joined the opposition.
Tribal groups have been advertising in favor of their measure and against the mobile measure for months. The operators and their political campaign have not begun their own advertising push yet, as they were waiting for final approval.
— No on Prop 27 (@NoOnProp27) June 20, 2022
California will be the only state in the nation with initiatives to legalize sports betting on the 2022 ballot. A push for an initiative in Florida, backed by DraftKings and FanDuel, was withdrawn ahead of the signature-collecting deadline in February. Voters in previous state elections have legalized sports betting in Arkansas (2018), Colorado (2019), Louisiana (2020), Maryland (2020), and Virginia (2020). All of those states now offer statewide mobile and retail sports betting.