The dishonesty in the campaign for the current Proposition 27 begins with the title of the initiative itself, which aims to legalize almost unfettered online sports betting in California.
Start with this: The measure’s very title does not even hint at its purpose. The official name of this putative law is the “California Solutions to Homelessness and Mental Health Support Act.” Where’s the beef? Where’s the wagering?
The sponsors, the FanDuel, DraftKings and BetMGM online sports betting services, also assert there is really no conflict between their measure and its rival Proposition 26, which would legalize sports betting in Indian casinos and a few horse race tracks in Alameda, Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties.
They apparently have not read Section 3 of Prop. 26. That’s where it says, among other things, that it will create “strict consumer protections to promote responsible sports wagering and protect children and public health, such as: Requiring adults 21 or older to be physically present in a (licensed) facility to place sports wagers…”
How can this section not conflict with a measure whose sole purpose is to let Californians wherever they may be use smartphones to bet on all aspects of sports, down to the youngest of youth sports, except injuries and a few other oddities?
Answer: it conflicts, no matter what anyone says. Under California law, that should mean whichever of these two measures gets the most votes will govern, while the other becomes a historical footnote – if both measures gain majority votes.
That’s what happened most famously in 1978, when the landmark property tax limits of Proposition 13 carried with a 65 percent majority, while the somewhat more moderate limits of Proposition 10 also passed, but with a smaller majority. Since then, Prop. 13 has been a political untouchable, while Prop. 10 is all but forgotten.
The dishonesty of the current Prop. 27 has been obvious in its television commercials, which ate up the lion’s share of the $403 million raised as of mid-September for both 26 and 27.
Those ads imply most of the money raised by 27 would go to house the homeless. In fact, homeless causes already getting state and federal money would receive 85 percent of the taxes on online sports betting.
Not 85 percent of the revenue, as the ads imply, but 85 percent of the taxes, some of the remainder going to pay for a new bureaucracy to regulate sports betting, under supervision of the state attorney general.
Those ads also imply there is no do-gooderism in Prop. 26, because it does not earmark tax money for the homeless. Rather, 26 would fund mental health treatment and attempts to assuage gambling addiction.
Prop. 26 also forbids betting on youth sports, high school sports and games played by California college teams, even when they compete out of state.
By contrast, Prop. 27 says it will forbid betting by those under 21 and will not allow advertising directed to non-adults. But since its commercials and other ads have been featured on all sorts of media, including social media, there would be little or nothing to shield the young.
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The Prop. 27 ads also claim it will fund small California tribes that do not now operate casinos. But together they would actually get less than 15 percent of the taxes on online betting, a bare pittance compared with what the Big 3 sports betting outfits would take.
Once again, there’s a contrast with Prop. 26, which openly advertises it will benefit about 50 tribes, almost all of which now run casinos.
There’s a big question here for voters who have tended for the last 20 years to okay legalizing things like gambling and marijuana, which once were illegal in California.
That is this: Will one of the most dishonest campaigns of the last century be rewarded with a victory giving untold billions of dollars yearly to its sponsors? Will voters reject both these measures, one because of its dishonesty and the other because it’s too restrictive? Or will they overlook all this and vote for both and then let the chips fall where they may?
Thomas Elias’ email address is firstname.lastname@example.org