Poll: Californians lean towards legal sports betting

California voters are open to the idea of ​​creating a legal market for betting on college and professional sports, but less than half of those polled in a new poll are sure of their support, an uncertain conclusion that serves as a prelude to a multi-million dollar policy. battle in November.

A poll released Wednesday by the Institute for Government Studies at UC Berkeley and co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times found that 45% of voters polled would support amending the California Constitution to allow sports betting. A third of voters said they opposed such an effort while the remaining 22% of respondents – more than 1 in 5 – are undecided.

The poll did not ask voters to comment on the specifics of how California would establish legal sports betting. Up to three ballot measures on the subject could appear on the national ballot in November, each envisioning a different business model. The proposals are backed by rival groups vowing to spend what could be a record amount of campaign money to win on Election Day.

“It’s just anybody’s guess right now how an initiative might fare,” said Mark DiCamillo, the institute’s director of investigation. “They might be able to win if they can prove a benefit to the state and a lack of harm to the general population.”

Efforts to legalize sports betting in California have been underway since 2018, when the United States Supreme Court struck down a federal law prohibiting all states except Nevada from establishing sports betting operations. The legal challenge was brought by New Jersey in its attempt to revive the sagging fortunes of its Atlantic City race tracks and casinos.

Four years later, the industry has shifted into high gear. More than 30 states, including all of those that share a border with California, have already licensed sports betting operations. But no state offers a market as lucrative as the one believed to exist in California. Last fall, an analyst with a national gaming research firm told The Times that the state could generate more than $3 billion a year in sports betting revenue if voters legalized the practice.

The Berkeley poll suggests that groups seeking to legalize sports betting will start the campaign season in a much stronger position than their opponents. Very few subsets of California voters were primarily opposed to the idea of ​​the new legal gambling venture. And the poll found roughly equal support among Democrats and Republicans.

“It’s rare these days for a political issue not to be considered non-partisan,” said Eric Schickler, co-director of the institute. “But the legalization of sports betting in California seems to be one, at least for now.”

A ballot measure to legalize sports betting in California has already qualified for the Nov. 8 election. Proponents of two additional proposals are now collecting signatures from voters in a bid to qualify as well. State law allows supporters of a ballot initiative to withdraw their measure any time before the final June 30 deadline.

The three sports betting proposals would present voters with a complex entanglement of public policy and political power.

The qualified measure was drafted in late 2019 and submitted by the presidents of four of California’s most successful Native American tribes with gambling interests. It seeks to establish in-person sports betting at tribal casinos and racetracks across the state. and impose a 10% tax on such transactions to fund gambling addiction treatment and enforcement programs, as well as broader government services.

A large coalition of tribes and horse racing interests contributed money to qualify the measure. The largest donations to date have come from three tribes: 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.

Card club operators oppose the measure because it includes a provision that could expand the rights of club employees to bring civil suits against the companies. Their campaign committee includes significant contributions from the California Commerce Club and Gardens Casino, both located in Los Angeles County.

What the initiative does not enable, however, is online sports betting, one of the most lucrative parts of the growing industry. Californians are already encouraged by TV ads to tune in and place bets — even though state law prohibits betting on the outcome of any sporting event. In October, a coalition led by national gaming companies DraftKings and FanDuel filed a second initiative that would allow online sports betting, with hefty licensing fees that would fund new homelessness and mental health programs across the country. ‘State.

“Our measure is the only one that would secure hundreds of millions of dollars in homelessness solutions and mental health support every year,” said Nathan Click, spokesperson for the gaming company-sponsored initiative in line. “We found that Californians are enthusiastic about this and the housing and mental health solutions it would provide to the state.”

Representatives for several other sports betting campaigns did not respond to requests for comment.

None of the proposals would allow placing bets on sports games involving high school athletes, or betting on California college teams. Legal bets could, however, be placed on college tournaments in which these teams participate – as long as the bet is not on the outcome of a game involving a state team.

The arrival of national online gambling giants has drawn criticism from Native American tribes. In December, a new coalition of tribes introduced a third initiative, which would allow tribal casinos to add online gambling operations and provide a similar injection of money for health and homelessness programs.

The campaign ahead of us is likely to be costly. DraftKings and FanDuel launched their initiative last year with $100 million in contributions from various national gaming platforms. A group led by the San Manuel Mission Band of Indians in San Bernardino County has raised more than $40 million this year to oppose the DraftKings initiative and support the new proposal.

Kathy Fairbanks, spokeswoman for the in-person sports betting measure that qualified for the ballot, said the campaign’s own surveys show Californians may be reluctant to support legalizing internet betting.

“Our polls consistently show strong support for in-person sports gambling at tribal casinos and strong opposition to online sports betting,” she said.

California voters have faced competing proposals on the same topic before, but rarely with campaigns as well-funded as those involved this year. The ballot measure championed by DraftKings and FanDuel includes a provision that states that its proposed constitutional amendment and the original tribal proposal could both become law because they largely cover separate parts — in-person and online — of the gaming industry. sport bets.

But the second tribal initiative is seeking market share online. And both online betting measures state that if they were both to be approved by voters, the one with the most “yes” votes would prevail.

The Berkeley/LA Times poll asked voters a question that could lay the groundwork for the political tussle to come: What is your interest in professional sports? A plurality of respondents – 47% – said they had some or little interest, perhaps explaining the equally limited support for the idea of ​​legalizing sports betting.

“If you’re a sports fan, you think the whole world around you is made up of sports fans,” DiCamillo said. “They will have to convince those who are not sports fans if they want an initiative to pass.”

Los Angeles Times

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