LOS ANGELES (AP) — The gaming industry and Native American tribes bet big on dueling propositions to legalize sports gambling in California, pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the most expensive ballot question campaigns in U.S. history.
But voters casting ballots in the midterm elections that conclude Tuesday may not want a piece of that action.
Californians have been inundated with a blast of advertisements as backers seek to legalize sports gambling by allowing it at tribal casinos and racetracks or through mobile and online wagering.
With a multibillion-dollar market at stake, proponents raised nearly $600 million — more than 250% higher than the record amount spent in 2020 by Uber, Lyft and other app-based ride-hailing and delivery services to prevent drivers from becoming employees eligible for benefits and job protection.
Still, preelection polls showed both ballot measures faced an uphill fight to win a majority. Should both be approved, a provision in the California Constitution calls for the one with the most votes to prevail.
More than 30 other states allow sports betting, but gambling in California is currently limited to Native American casinos, horse tracks, card rooms and the state lottery.
Proponents of the two initiatives propose different ways to offer sports gambling and each touts other benefits they say that will come to the state if their measure is approved.
Proposition 26 would allow casinos and the state’s four horse tracks to offer sports betting in person. The initiative bankrolled by a coalition of tribes would also allow roulette and dice games at casinos.
A 10% tax would help pay for enforcement of gambling laws and programs to help gambling addicts.
Proposition 27 would would allow online and mobile sports betting for adults. Large gaming companies would have to partner with a tribe involved in gambling or tribes could enter the market on their own.
That measure is backed by DraftKings, BetMGM, FanDuel — the latter is the official odds provider for The Associated Press — as well as other national sports betting operators and a few tribes.
The initiative is being promoted for the funding it promises to funnel through tax revenues to help the homeless, the mentally ill and and poorer tribes that haven’t been enriched by casinos.
The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office found that both initiatives would increase state revenues but it’s unclear by how much. Proposition 26 could bring in tens of millions of dollars while Proposition 27 could bring in hundreds of millions, the office said.
However, that revenue could be offset if people spend their money on sports gambling instead of shopping or buying lottery tickets.
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Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom hasn’t taken a position on either proposal but has said Proposition 27 “is not a homeless initiative.”
The California Republican Party opposes both proposals. State Democrats oppose Proposition 27, but are neutral on Proposition 26. Major League Baseball is backing Proposition 27.
The No on Prop 26 campaign, funded largely by card rooms that stand to lose out, says the measure would give a handful of wealthy and powerful tribes “a virtual monopoly on all gaming in California.”
The No on 27 committee says the proposal is based on deceptive promises and says the gaming companies behind it “didn’t write it for the homeless, they wrote it for themselves.”