We’re less than 150 days away from Election Day, when two different California sports betting initiatives will go before voters.
The two proposals — one backed by California’s largest tribes and another by the country’s preeminent online sportsbooks — would work hand-in-hand to guide sports betting in the state if both are passed.
At the moment, however, the two sides are fighting hand-to-hand — with millions in advertising dollars being spent to convince voters to choose between two very different visions of sports betting.
Nathan Click, who serves as a spokesperson for the online sports betting initiative, said their measure has the widespread backing of Californians, and they will not be deterred by “fear-mongering” about underaged gambling users, increased gambling addiction, and other talking points from the tribal sports betting side.
“We aren't deterred by these false political attacks,” Click said. “Californians widely support our approach because they see it provides the best deal for Californians. Nearly half of the country has now authorized online sports betting — proving it can be safely regulated and generate significant revenue to help states solve big problems.”
A War of Words in California
Attorney Jeff Ifrah, the founding member and managing partner of Ifrah PLLC and an expert in online gaming law, says organizers for the California Legalize Sports Betting on American Indian Lands Initiative and the California Solutions to Homelessness and Mental Health Support Act see each other as a threat, which is a major motivator behind their war of words.
The Indian Lands Initiative would allow tribes and racetracks to offer retail-only sports betting, along with adding additional table games at tribal casinos. The second initiative, backed by online operators such as DraftKings Sportsbook and FanDuel Sportsbook, would legalize mobile sports betting in California with tax proceeds to fund homelessness programs.
The Tribes’ social media advertising says the online sports betting proposal would “escalate the risks of underage and problem gambling.” Online sports betting advocates say regulated online betting often does a better job of preventing underage gaming than brick-and-mortar locations do.
Some states require the last four digits of a user’s social security number to set up an online account. In Canada’s new Ontario market, regulators are requiring operators to do background checks on potential customers.
Three California tribes were attempting to get their own mobile sports betting proposal on the ballot this year, but in May decided to focus on getting enough signatures to go before voters in 2024 — while working to defeat this year’s online sports betting bill supported by national operators.
“I’ve been involved with online everything for a long time, and I think this is not the first time that a land-based, brick-and-mortar business or industry feels like they’re threatened by an online industry,” Ifrah told BetCalifornia.com. “It’s been going on since the internet started. And I do believe that the tribes probably believe somewhat sincerely that their core business — their land-based poker rooms or casinos, would be cannibalized if online operators were allowed access to California consumers.”
What the Tribal Organizers are Saying
Tribal sports betting initiative spokesperson Kathy Fairbanks told BetCalifornia.com the measure’s “Stop the Corporate Online Gambling Prop” Twitter account has simply pointed out facts regarding the dangers of online sports betting.
“It’s true that backers of the online sports betting measure are out of state corporations. It’s true that 90% of the revenues will flow out of California. It’s true that California Indian Tribes oppose,” Fairbanks wrote in an email. “It’s true that accelerated speed of play, easy access and the instantaneous nature of online and mobile gambling make it more addictive, especially to kids.”
On Wednesday, the Tribes’ Coalition for Safe, Responsible Gaming announced support from more than 80 organizations, including the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce and Civic Association and the San Diego Police Officers Association.
California voters will have the ultimate say about which form of sports betting — if any — winds up taking effect.
With potential revenue from the state’s 40 million-plus residents at stake, we’re likely in for a protracted war of words until Election Day.
“The DraftKings and FanDuels in the industry have waited a long time for this, and I think a lot of Californians have as well,” Ifrah said. “And right now, the only option for Californians isn’t the tribal casinos or the card rooms, because they don’t offer sports betting.
“The only option right now is to go offshore where the game is totally unregulated; sometimes unfair; and in any event generates zero tax dollars. So, I can’t put this opportunity in any starker terms. Californians finally have the opportunity to enjoy a new form of entertainment, which is sports betting in a regulated environment, providing needed tax revenue for Californians.”