A pair of dueling sports betting ballot measures before California voters this year have set spending records this election cycle.
Television ads — a cacophony of messages promising economic stability for state tribes, greater homelessness services and even gambling addiction increases — run regularly. Billboards have popped up along heavily trafficked Southern California roads, and glossy papers stack up in mailboxes.
Together, the two sports betting measures have set the record as the costliest ballot campaigns in the state, according to campaign finance data from OpenSecrets. The campaigns on either side of the ballot proposals have spent more than $440 million so far, according to CalMatters.
But despite all the noise and cash, Proposition 26 and Proposition 27 may be bad bets. A recent Berkeley IGS poll, conducted in English and Spanish at the end of September, found most likely voters are either against or undecided about either ballot measure.
More specifically, only 31% of likely voters surveyed said they support Prop 26, the measure that would allow in-person sports betting at tribal casinos and the four privately owned race tracks in California. It would also allow tribal casinos to offer roulette and dice games.
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Among those surveyed, 42% said they did not support the ballot measure, and 27% were undecided.
In comparison, only 27% of likely voters said they support Prop 27, the effort to legalize online sports betting in California through large gaming companies (like DraftKings or FanDuel) and tribes already with state compacts.
With that one, 53% of voters said they oppose the measure, and another 20% remain undecided.
“These results suggest that the sports wagering initiatives are foundering in the face of the opposition advertising campaigns,” said IGS co-director Eric Schickler. “The lack of support among key demographic groups makes passage of each an uphill climb, at best.”
The Berkeley IGS survey suggested the cornucopia of advertisements has played a role in public perception of the ballot measures. Those surveyed who said they had seen many ads related to the ballot measures opposed them by wide margins, while those who had seen little to no advertisements were more evenly divided, according to the poll.
Proponents of both measures also chalked up negative attitudes to the inundation of ads.
“The deceptive ads by the out-of-state gambling corporations have thoroughly confused voters to the point where they are just saying no to it all,” Kathy Fairbanks, a spokesperson for the Yes on 26/No on 27 campaign, said. “Our polling shows that voters still strongly support Indian tribes and in-person tribal gaming.”
Fairbanks said her campaign hasn’t released a Yes on 26 ad as of yet, having only focused resources on combating Prop 27.
“Prop 27 has taken over $100 million in misleading and false attacks — $45 million before we even qualified for the ballot,” said Nathan Click, a spokesperson for the Yes on 27 campaign. “It’s telling these same opponents funding these ads haven’t spent a dime supporting their own sports betting proposal.”
Broken down further, the poll found nearly all subgroups — from men to women, Democrats to Republicans, and more — were against Prop 27. Only likely voters who were under the age of 30 signaled support for the measure, 44% to 33%.
For Prop 26, Republicans and conservative voters were more strongly against the measure than Democrats and liberals — albeit, those latter groups still opposed the measure.
In Orange County, 41% of voters surveyed said they were against Prop 26, and 56% were against Prop 27. Only 31% supported Prop 26, and 28% supported Prop 27.
Prop 26 is evenly divided in the Inland Empire: 36% of voters support the measure, and 36% oppose it. However, 51% of Inland Empire voters oppose Prop 27 while only 27% support it.
“We are grateful that voters appear to be rejecting the out-of-state gambling corporations and their $170 million campaign of deception. That said, Prop 27 is still on the ballot and still poses a significant threat to tribal self-reliance and all Californians,” Fairbanks said.
Since 2018 — when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal ban on sports wagering, leaving it up to states — nearly three dozen states and Washington, D.C., have legalized sports gambling in some fashion.
Pointing to those states that have authorized sports wagering, Click said: “California should be next.”
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