In a situation that political and gaming consultants say they haven’t seen before, both major parties in California have now come out in opposition to Proposition 27, the statewide mobile wagering initiative backed by the a group of seven commercial operators.
Late Friday, the California Republican Party announced its opposition, joining the Democrats, who stated their position in late July. The Democrats also said they will remain neutral on the tribal-backed, retail-only Proposition 26. The Republicans voted to oppose it.
“Prop 27 breaks the promise made to California’s Native American tribes to grant them the sovereign right to operate gaming in California in order to improve the lives of their communities across the state,” Jessica Millan Patterson, chairwoman of the California Republican Party, said in a press release. “We stand with California tribes and oppose Prop 27.”
One political consultant said she has never worked on or seen a campaign that both parties have opposed, while a gaming consultant said he’s never seen this kind of political opposition to a gaming initiative.
According to a press release from “No on 27,” 60 elected officials from both parties across the state oppose the measure, as well as the California Teachers Association, League of California Cities, and Veterans of Foreign Wars (California Department). Major League Baseball this month announced its support for the measure.
“It is certainly a bold statement that both parties have come out opposed to Prop 27,” consultant Brendan Bussmann of Las Vegas-based B Global wrote in an email. “I think that speaks volumes for the hometown team’s ability to articulate a message to local stakeholders.
“This has always been a ballot initiative that is going to be won with an air and ground game. This opposition speaks more to the ground game than anything else. However, there is still roughly 30 percent of the vote that doesn’t identify with a party sitting out there.”
Advertising is confusing
Since Proposition 27 was approved for the ballot in late June, residents have been pummeled with ads from both sides on television, through streaming services, on social media, on billboards, and even with pop-up ads while surfing the net. Campaigns from both propositions have been using tribal leaders as critical parts of their advertising, which appears to be confusing voters. Anecdotally, several California voters told Sports Handle they won’t vote for legal sports betting at all, as they can’t determine the differences between the proposals and who would benefit.
In California, we see endless ads for a couple of bills that essentially have to do with legalizing sports betting in the state.
But even after watching a few hundred spots, I had no idea what the bills were about.
Cash has broken politics and maybe thought in general. pic.twitter.com/PJD0BuTDw1
— Dave Pell (@davepell) August 21, 2022
While Proposition 27 is backed by a coalition including Bally’s, BetMGM, DraftKings, Fanatics, FanDuel, PENN Entertainment/Barstool Sportsbook, and WynnBET, it also has the support of three smaller gaming tribes, who in advertising have said that Proposition 26 would really only benefit the biggest, richest gaming tribes.
None of the tribes on any side of the issue have been available for comment since the advertising blitz began.
“While party endorsements still mean something, the influence of political parties is becoming less and less as we shift to more individual driven efforts which clouds issue campaigns allegiances,” Bussmann said. “This is going to be won or lost by reaching voters directly and maximizing the spend to establish a ground game. The opposition has the advantage on that right now.”
Money still rolling in
According to campaign finance reports and local media accounts, funding for the gambling campaigns has now reached about $357 million. BetMGM, DraftKings, Fanatics, FanDuel, and PENN Entertainment have each put $25 million toward “Yes on 27,” and Bally’s Interactive and Wynn Interactive have each contributed $12.5 million. Opposition groups and those supporting Proposition 26 have added another approximately $180 million.
The funding has blown away California’s previous costliest campaign. In 2020, DoorDash, Lyft, and Uber amassed a $200 million war chest in an effort to defeat a law that would have classified their drivers as employees. The proposition passed, but it has since been deemed unconstitutional by a California Superior Court judge.
The Bay Area News Group (BANG) on Monday reported that sports betting campaigns have raised an average of $16.5 million per week since June 30.
“You aren’t going to be able to watch evening news, a football game or a YouTube video without seeing a message on these initiatives,” Thad Kousser, professor of political science at UC San Diego and co-director of the Yankelovich Center for Social Science Research, told BANG. “It is worth it to spend a couple hundred million to gain, essentially, a monopoly over a multibillion-dollar industry.”