Odds are, in coming months you’ll become keenly aware that sportsbook operators and gaming tribes are waging a high-stakes ballot battle for control of sport gambling in California, and you may well get sick of it.
That’s because both sides have $100 million war chests, ready to deliver their messages on every imaginable platform.
Coupled with anticipated spending from the ballot’s other measures, Californians could find out what a billion dollars of campaign spending feels like.
“These ballot measures are the second-most expensive political campaigns in the world.” — David McCuan
“Ads, ads and more ads,” is what voters can expect between now and the November election, said David McCuan, chair of the Political Science department at Sonoma State University, where he specializes in ballot measure politics.
Kathy Fairbanks, spokesperson for the tribal initiative, confirmed “we’ll be using every medium to communicate with voters.”
So, if you’re watching TV, perusing social media, listening to the radio, or opening your mail, you’re going to see and hear a lot about why sports gambling should be restricted to in-person wagering at tribal casinos, or why it belongs on the internet.
Experts predict spending records to fall – again – come November. The current high-water mark was set just two years ago, when ride-hailing companies and their opponents pushed Prop 22 to the top of the spending pack in a $755 million election. Expectations for this year hover around $1 billion.
“That’s essentially a presidential campaign’s worth of spending on a handful of measures in just one state,” McCuan said. “These ballot measures are the second-most expensive political campaigns in the world.”
Hundreds of millions, if not billions in new revenue from sports gambling are on the line.
No apologies for that. This is a large and expensive state, and if you want to talk to voters, it’s going to cost – a lot.
“You can expect a well-funded, extensive voter education effort,” said Fairbanks.
Nathan Click, spokesperson for the online gaming coalition, said much the same.
“We will ensure Californians have the facts of what our measure does, and we will work to ensure that Californians understand our measure,” said Click.
There is, of course, a saturation point – although no one knows its precise location.
“Potentially, voters could turn-off and tune out,” said McCuan, “what we call negative mobilization.”
“So, there can be, at some point of endless blasts of campaign spending, a point of diminishing returns,” he said.
Not that anyone would risk pulling back. The stakes are too high. Hundreds of millions, if not billions in new revenue from sports gambling are on the line.
In recent days, a group of online platforms including FanDuel and DraftKings finished qualifying their own initiative for the same ballot.
Sports betting is a brass ring for gaming operators. It long remained out of reach, however, because of the Professional and Amatuer Sports Protection Act, which Congress passed in 1992 – eight years before Californians legalized tribal gaming.
That barrier was removed in 2018, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared the Sports Protection Act unconstitutional. In the wake of that ruling, Delaware, Mississippi, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia legalized sports betting.
Then a group of gaming tribes, led by the Pechanga Band of the Luiseno Mission Indians, decided to put the issue before voters. Their initiative has been eligible for this year’s general election ballot since May of last year. It would put sovereign tribes into the lucrative world of sports betting, while keeping others out.
In recent days, a group of online platforms including FanDuel and DraftKings finished qualifying their own initiative for the same ballot. If it passes, Californians could place bets online or by smartphone.
Neither campaign would disclose when they might begin campaigning in earnest, but outreach is already underway.
“By Halloween, find us a voter who hasn’t seen a ballot measure ad and we’ll sell that voter a bridge,” joked McCuan. “Heck, find that voter by Labor Day!”