UNLV Experts Predict California Voters Will See Sports Betting on the 2024 Ballot

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California voters will likely see sports betting legalization on the ballot again in 2024. That deja vu will happen if voters defeat Propositions 26 and 27 tomorrow, as pollsters and experts from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) International Center for Gaming Regulation (ICGR) believe they will.

On Friday, ICGR Marketing Manager Claire Krawsczyn answered questions from Bonus about the ballot measures that would legalize online sportsbooks. ICGR is one of three research centers within the International Gaming Institute (IGI), which is on the UNLV campus.

Among the information she sent is this conclusion in the ICGR White Paper Series on the Regulation of Tribal Sports Wagering: The Outlook in California:

Sports wagering is here to stay. The question may be less about whether it comes to California, than when, and in what forms. If one, or both, measures fail, we can expect this issue to be on the ballot again in 2024. [Emphasis in the original.]

California Voters Appear Opposed to Props 26, 27

On Oct. 26, the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) released the results of a statewide survey. Exactly 1,715 adult Californians answered their cell phones, as well as 19 minutes of PPIC questions.

They told pollsters they would vote down Proposition 26, which would legalize retail sports betting at tribal casinos and racetracks. All gambling facilities in California belong to tribes, according to the American Gaming Association (AGA).

Among the state’s 39 million residents are gamblers who visit the 82 tribal casinos the AGA says generated more than $8 billion in gross gaming revenue (GGR) during 2016.

PPIC survey-takers also asked respondents about Proposition 27. That measure would legalize online sportsbooks run by tribes and private operators, like BetMGM and FanDuel. Tribes worked to defeat Prop 27.

Here’s what the PPIC found:

When likely voters are read the ballot title and labels, 34 percent would vote yes on Proposition 26 (sports betting at tribal casinos), [and] 26 percent would vote yes on Proposition 27 (online sports gambling) … Most likely voters say they are not personally interested in sports betting, and 48 percent think it would be a “bad thing” if it became legal in the state. Fewer than half of likely voters say the vote outcome of Propositions 26 [or] 27 … is very important to them.

California Voters Sometimes Surprise Experts

On June 8, CNN reported California voters “in two of the most liberal cities in America’ sent Democrats a message.

San Franciscans recalled District Attorney Chesa Boudin.

Also, so many Los Angelinos chose “shopping mall magnate Rick Caruso, a former Republican who became a Democrat earlier this year,” as their mayoral candidate that the Democratic primary with  US Rep. Karen Bass that both candidates are on tomorrow’s ballot.

So on Nov. 2, when the UNLV ICGR presented a webinar titled New Tribal Sports Betting Markets: The Outlook in California, speakers didn’t treat tomorrow’s election results as a foregone conclusion.

Whether one or both ballot initiatives to legalize sports betting pass tomorrow, this will be “the largest gambling expansion in the history of California,” said Craig Ferreira, ICGR’s interim executive director. The webinar description says California voters passing either initiative would create a $3 billion industry.

He introduced speakers Kathryn R.L. Rand and Steven A. Light, who noted the audience included many Californians. Also, Half of the attendees were regulators, Light said.

Rand and Light are ICGR Distinguished Senior Fellows in Tribal Gaming. During spring 2022, they were visiting faculty members at UNLV’s William S. Boyd School of Law in the Indian Nations Gaming and Governance Program. UNLV notes that the program is “generously supported by the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians,” which is a California tribe.

The UNLV law school’s donor tribe – which operates Yaamava’ Resort and Casino at San Manuel in Highland, Calif. – isn’t listed as one of the tribal entities submitting Prop 26.

Light said if both ballot initiatives pass:

Probably you end up in court.

Because Prop 26 likely bars implementation of Prop 27, he said.

However, both ballot initiatives may fail.

When voters face too many options, Light said, “status quo becomes the easiest choice.”

For California Voters, Deja Vu Began in 2019

On Oct. 5, 2021, the initiative coordinator with the California Attorney General’s Office received a submission from Kurt R. Oneto – a partner at San Rafael-based law firm Nielsen Merksamer, where he specializes in statewide ballot measures. That submission became Prop 27.

However, the office already had Prop 26. That arrived in December 2019.

So in 2020, California voters were preparing to see a ballot initiative proposed by:

  • Temecula Band of Luiseño Mission Indians
  • Barona Band of Mission Indians
  • Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation
  • Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians

The UNLV webinar also notes that there are more than 75 “gaming tribes” in California.

After the 2019 tribal submission, ICGR Student Administrative Assistant Noah Ahmed‘s report about the tribal effort said:

If tribal sports wagering proponents are not granted an extension, it is highly likely that both legislators and tribal leaders will attempt to propose a constitutional amendment to voters again in the 2022 election cycle.

As Ahmed predicted, the 2019 tribal filing became 2022’s Prop 26.

It may be happening again.

Light said sports betting will be on the 2024 ballot, because BetMGM, DraftKings, and FanDuel “have the will to find a way.”

Rand added that if California voters approve retail-only, there will likely be a later push to legalize online sportsbooks. That’s because in states that allow retail and mobile sports betting, “the vast majority of bets are placed on mobile – 80%, 90%, or more.”

So if California voters do approve retail and not mobile, online sports betting will return as an issue, she said.

Would that make 2026 another deja vu proposition?

About the Author

Heather Fletcher

Heather Fletcher is the lead writer at Bonus, concentrating on online casino coverage. She had her first published byline at age 10, but didn't get paid for her writing until she got her first newspaper job. Fletcher's newspaper career started at Suburban News Publications in Ohio and eventually took her to The New York Times, where she's still a contract freelance reporter for the National Desk. She covers breaking news from Philadelphia, as needed. In March 2021, Fletcher began writing about online casino gambling as the lead writer for Online Poker Report.

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