Online sports gambling companies, California tribes and card rooms have spent more than $410 million on a pair of dueling ballot measures to legalize sports betting in person and online.
If either side thought Proposition 26 or 27 could win, they placed a bad bet.
A new poll from the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies, co-sponsored by The Times, shows little chance voters will approve either measure in November.
Likely voters who said they had seen a lot of ads about the propositions were more opposed to the measures than those who had not seen any ads.
“I think it’s the negative advertisements that have kind of been turning voters away,” said Berkeley IGS poll director Mark DiCamillo. “People who haven’t seen the ads are about evenly divided, but people who’ve seen a lot of ads are against it. So, the advertising is not helping.”
Proposition 26 would allow in-person sports betting at tribal casinos and horse racing tracks. It earned only 31% support from likely voters, compared with 42% opposed, according to the Berkeley survey of 6,939 likely California voters.
Proposition 27, which would allow online sports wagering, fared even worse — 27% of likely voters in support and 53% opposed.
Backers of the measures have inundated voters with ads and blown away previous state campaign spending records in the process, but they faced an uphill battle from the start. A Berkeley IGS poll taken in February showed Californians were open to the idea of legal sports betting, but the presence of two competing initiatives often makes it more difficult for either to pass, DiCamillo said.
Proposition 27 is funded by gambling corporations, including sports gaming companies DraftKings and FanDuel. The companies, which control a large swath of the online sports betting market in the U.S., would be required to partner with a California tribe and pony up $100 million to get licensed in the state. Tribes could also offer sports betting platforms on their own for a $10-million entry fee.
Tribes and gambling companies with sports betting licenses would pay 10% of their take from sports bets each month to the state, after subtracting some expenses and losses. The initiative would direct the revenue to fund programs for homelessness and gambling addiction, with a smaller cut for tribes that are not involved in online sports betting, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office.
Leaders of four of California’s most successful Native American tribes with gaming interests are the original proponents of Proposition 26, the in-person sports betting measure. It would impose a 10% tax on sports betting to fund gambling addiction treatment and enforcement programs.
A coalition of more than 30 tribes support Proposition 26, with major funding from the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians in Palm Springs, the Barona Band of Mission Indians in Lakeside and the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation in rural Yolo County.
Only three tribes support Proposition 27, while 51 tribes oppose the measure. That didn’t stop the online sports betting companies from running spots suggesting that tribes back the measure. Opponents countered with their own ads, creating a confusing number of claims for voters to sort through.
Thad Kousser, a political science professor at UC San Diego, said voters have largely supported efforts to allow tribes to benefit economically from legalized gambling, which he described as the “social contract on gaming in California.”
“DraftKings and FanDuel don’t have that,” he said. “They’re trying to spend their way out of a political hole.”
When exposed to an onslaught of ads, voters often tune out the message and become skeptical of the source.
“They start saying this is about some wealthy interests trying to buy this election,” Kousser said. “Anytime you spend massive amounts, it triggers that instinct in voters.”
Kathy Fairbanks, spokesperson for the Yes on 26/No on 27 campaign, said her side is grateful "that voters appear to be rejecting the out-of-state gambling corporations and their $170-million campaign of deception."
The Yes on 27 campaign similarly pointed the finger at its opponents.
"[Proposition] 27 has taken over $100 million in misleading and false attacks — $45 million before we even qualified for the ballot," said Nathan Click, the spokesman for that ballot campaign. "It's telling these same opponents funding these ads haven't spent a dime supporting their own sports betting proposal, [Proposition] 26."
Younger voters were more likely to support expanding gambling, while older voters were more opposed. Likely voters who were big fans of pro sports were also more likely to support the expansion.
A majority of Democrats and Republicans opposed Proposition 27. Democrats were more closely split on in-person sports betting, while only 28% of GOP voters supported Proposition 26 and half opposed the measure.
Other initiatives funded by corporate interests polled better.
Just under half of likely voters favored Proposition 30, which would require wealthy Californians to pay an additional 1.75% in personal income taxes on annual earnings above $2 million starting in 2023. The revenue would support zero-emission vehicle programs and wildfire response and prevention efforts.
The ride-sharing company Lyft is the major supporter of the proposition, spending more than $45 million thus far to persuade voters to pass it. The state has ordered ride-sharing companies to convert their fleets to electric vehicles by 2030, and Proposition 30 would greatly subsidize the cost of doing that.
Eighty percent of the revenue would be used to encourage the purchase of new zero-emission vehicles and to install and operate charging stations for such vehicles. The rest of the money raised would go toward wildfire protection and prevention.
Though the measure has support among some environmental groups and has been endorsed by the California Democratic Party, Gov. Gavin Newsom calls it “corporate welfare” and strongly opposes it. The measure is a "cynical scheme" by Lyft, the governor has said.
According to the survey, 49% of likely voters favor the ballot measure, compared to 37% who opposed it. The remainder were undecided.
Though that may seem like good news for the initiative's backers, the failure to land support from more than 50% of likely voters is a clear warning sign, DiCamillo said.
“That one is in play. That may not make it across the finish line,” he said. “When voters are undecided, they tend to vote no. You have to be convinced on a proposition that changing the status quo is acceptable."
Newsom’s strong opposition to Proposition 30 appears to be its greatest threat, DiCamillo added.
“The ‘No’ campaign has it easier. All they need to do is raise some doubts and raise some fears,” DiCamillo said. “The ‘Yes’ side has to convince voters that a change in the status quo is needed.”
The forecast for Proposition 31, which would ban the sale of most flavored tobacco products in stores and vending machines, was much more clear.
Major tobacco companies have spent tens of millions of dollars to persuade Californians to vote against Proposition 31 and allow the sale of flavored tobacco products to continue.
Their efforts appear to be failing: A large majority of likely voters support the ban, with 57% in favor, 31% opposed and 12% undecided, the poll found. The majority support came regardless of age, gender or income; conservatives were evenly divided on the measure.
“This is more of a health issue for voters,” DiCamillo said.
The ban was passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Newsom in 2020 but in 2021 was placed on hold after a referendum challenging the law qualified for the November 2022 ballot.
When a referendum challenging a state law qualifies for the ballot, the law is suspended until voters can decide whether it should go into effect.
In the race for governor, Newsom appears to be gliding toward an easy reelection. The survey found that 53% of likely voters said they would vote for Newsom compared with 32% who backed state Sen. Brian Dahle, a conservative Republican from the Northern California town of Bieber. Twelve percent were undecided.
Support for Dahle did rise slightly since a poll in August, while it remained steady for Newsom.
The Berkeley IGS poll was conducted online Sept. 22-27 among 8,725 California registered voters, including 6,939 who were deemed likely to vote in the November election. The sample was weighted to match census and voter registration benchmarks. Because of weighting, precise estimates of the margin of error are difficult, but the results are estimated to have a margin of error of approximately 2.5 percentage points in either direction for the likely voter sample.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.