The battle over sports betting legalization in California keeps heating up with both tribes and sportsbook operators ramping up their campaigning and lobbying efforts ahead of November’s ballot. Gambling companies have now released an ad punching back at tribal gaming interests, which has sparked controversy and was blasted by state tribes.
With less than 100 days until California voters decide if they want to legalize sports betting, both groups are making pushes in favor of their respective efforts in what is likely to become the state's most expensive political campaign ever.
Most tribal gaming entities support Proposition 26, a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow retail sportsbooks at Indian casinos and state-licensed racetracks. In contrast, a coalition of major sportsbook operators backs Proposition 27, which seeks to legalize online sports betting while redirecting a percentage of tax revenue to address homelessness.
A new 30-second spot from “Californians for Solutions to Homelessness and Mental Health Support” is the latest development in the ongoing battle. “Californians for Solutions” is the committee supported by $100 million from sports betting companies DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM, Bally Bet, WynnBET, Barstool Sportsbook and Fanatics.
Even though the group’s initiative would direct 85% of tax revenue from online wagering to homelessness and mental health programs, the spot released on Monday focuses on tribal economic development, to where the remaining 15% would go.
The narrator in the new ad calls Proposition 27 a “game changer” as it would help smaller tribes in the state, including non-gaming nations, which “for years have been left in the dust.” But this is not all: the spot takes shots at “wealthy tribes with big casinos,” alleging they are seeking to keep “all the money” from sports betting to themselves.
“Wealthy tribes with big casinos make billions while small tribes struggle in poverty,” the narrator says. “Prop 27 taxes and regulates online sports betting to fund permanent solutions to homelessness while helping every tribe in California. So who’s attacking Prop 27? Wealthy casino tribes who want all the money for themselves.”
Under the operators’ proposed amendment, commercial sportsbooks would pay $100 million for a license, and they would have to establish a partnership with an in-state tribe. Tribes wishing to offer sports betting on their own would be able to do so through a $10 million license, but they would find themselves limited in how they could brand their app.
Meanwhile, tribes not involved in sports betting would be eligible to receive funding from the economic development fund that would be established by the measure. However, a coalition consisting of more than 50 California Indian tribes has now blasted the alleged benefits of this proposal and the latest ad campaign in favor of Prop 27.
The coalition against Prop 27 has condemned the new ad, calling it “despicable” and arguing it directly attacks California tribal leaders. “Prop 27 would authorize the largest expansion of online gambling in the history of the country, hurting Native American Tribes and leaving a pittance for California,” the parties claim.
"Shameful, despicable," said James Siva, Chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association. "The out-of-state corporations and their Wall Street investors funding Prop 27 have deceptively tried to convince voters that their measure will help tribes. The truth is now out.”
According to Siva, more than 50 tribes -including both gaming and non-gaming tribes- “overwhelmingly oppose” Prop 27 because the proposal “jeopardizes vital funding” tribes use to support education, health care, cultural preservation, and public safety for their communities.
"The out-of-state corporations behind this ad should immediately pull it off the air and apologize to the tribal leaders," said Lynn Valbuena, Chairwoman of the Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations. "These profit-driven Wall-Street corporations have stooped to a new low by minimizing the progress California tribal nations have made through tribal government gaming."
Operators are not the only ones that have released spots in an effort to sway public opinion. In July, the tribal-backed group “Californians for Tribal Sovereignty and Safe Gaming” released an ad criticizing “Californians for Solutions,” which they accuse of trying to mislead voters, arguing a “loophole” in the measure would mean tribes would get less money than promised.
“It doesn’t tell you 90% of the profits go to the out-of-state corporations,” the tribal-backed ad says of the “Californians for Solutions” campaign. “A tiny share goes to the homeless and even less to tribes. And a big loophole says the cost to promote betting reduces money for the tribes.”
The “Californians for Solutions” ad launched Monday would seemingly respond to that prior tribal-backed ad, arguing that “wealthy” tribes are behind the push against Prop 27. Still, these new developments are likely not to be the last in the ongoing battle, with more campaigning taking place before the ballot.
Lines are being drawn in the conflict, which has even seen a slate of tribes -including the Middletown Rancheria of Pomo Indians and the Santa Rosa Indian Community of the Santa Rosa Rancheria- announce their support for Prop 27. The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) District Council 36, a major player in California politics, has also seemingly allied with operators by publicly opposing Prop 26.
However, Prop 27 is also facing rejection from a number of parties as well. In addition to most tribes, the proposal is opposed by the advocacy group League of California Cities, which argues the amendment would jeopardize local tax revenues; and by California’s Democratic Party, which holds majorities in the legislature and occupies the governor’s office.
California ranks among one of the biggest prizes if a sports gambling ban is overturned. Experts forecast the market is worth around $3 billion each year, an attractive segment not only for heavyweight operators but also for Native American tribes.
The amounts of money being poured into the current campaigns prove that interest. As shown by records from the California Secretary of State’s office, the committees that have been established to support or oppose either sports betting measure have already raised about $235 million, which would be more than the nearly $224.3 million raised in 2020 for Proposition 22, at the time California’s costliest ballot measure.