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Sports betting on ballot in California as midterms begin


Today, Californians will vote on the dueling sports betting ballot measures, Proposition 26 and Proposition 27, as polls open for the 2022 US midterm elections.   

Voting has indeed already begun, as every county in the Golden state has early voting and drop-off locations. Backed by California’s 78 gaming tribes, Proposition 26 is a retail-first proposal that would legalize sports wagering at tribal casinos and licensed horse racing tracks – imposing a 10% tax on the profits derived from such activities.

This compares with the commercial-sector-supported Proposition 27, which would permit online sports betting. Under the text of the proposed law, such agreements would cost $100m (£87.2m/ €100m) – limiting access to the market from all but the largest operators.

Barring a major upset, both proposals are set to fail according to polling from the Berkeley Institute of Government Studies (IGS). When questioned, 31% of respondents supported Prop 26, with 42% opposed; support for Prop 27 was weaker with 27% for and 53% against.

Most expensive ballot measure

The tribal coalition devoted more of its resources to opposing the operator-backed measure, painting the campaign as a group of out of state interests who were disingenuous about their motives. Supporters of Prop 27 fought back, arguing that non-gaming tribes did not receive revenue in Prop 26, unlike their measure.

In total, almost $500m has been spent by both camps, making it the most expensive ballot measure in the history of the US. This is even as operators pulled funding for the campaign in recent weeks as defeat appeared more likely.

“Even though we’ve seen the supports of Prop 27 come off the air for the most part in terms of TV spend, which obviously in that media market very expensive, it really hasn’t moved the needle much from what I’m seeing on 26,” said VP of Government Affairs Brandt Ident on iGB’s World Series of Politics podcast. “26 has certainly picked up some more favorables a week away from election day – but I still think that neither of these get over the threshold.”

“I still think we end up right back to where we were before with this, with having to figure out what comes next in California – which certainly isn’t going to be easy.”

Laboratories of democracy

While California is the only state where sports betting is directly on the ballot today, other races may have important implications for gaming. In Georgia, Stacy Abrams has come out in favor of sports betting and casino resorts legislation in the governor’s race.

Additionally, changes in the makeup of state legislatures may realign the coalitions to make gaming legislation more likely in 2023.