By MADISON HIRNEISEN
THE CENTER SQUARE STAFF REPORTER
(The Center Square) — The avalanche of negative ads surrounding two California sports betting initiatives on the November ballot could have voters souring on both measures, analysts say.
California voters appear poised to reject two sports betting ballot measures in November, according to polling data released this week from the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies.
If both measures fail, the state will forfeit up to hundreds of millions of dollars generated by sports betting while other states establish gaming structures.
According to the poll, 53% of likely voters say they would vote “no” on Proposition 27, a measure backed by FanDuel and DraftKings that would legalize online sports wagering outside of tribal lands in California. Around 27% of likely voters said they would vote “yes,” and another 20% are currently undecided.
Additionally, the majority of likely voters appear ready to reject Proposition 26 as well, a measure that would legalize sports betting at tribal casinos and licensed racetracks and allow roulette and dice games at the casinos. The polling shows that 42% of likely voters would vote “no,” 31% would vote “yes,” and 27% remain undecided.
The sports betting initiatives have become the most expensive ballot measures in California’s history.
In recent months, California voters have been inundated with ads surrounding the competing measures, with backers of Proposition 26 taking aim at Proposition 27 and vice versa. The competing initiatives have likely caused confusion among voters, creating a situation where “these two propositions have been competing for public opinion and using negative ads to do so,” according to PlayCA Analyst David Danzis.
“Voters are left with a less than favorable opinion of both of the props as a result of the negative advertising that we’ve seen over the course of the last four or five months particularly,” Mr. Danzis told The Center Square. “Voters have been inundated with these messages, and they’re getting mixed messages from both sides about what is true, what isn’t true, where money is going, who’s behind it.
“So I think voters are probably just, quite frankly, tired of seeing the negative ads and the vitriol that’s associated with it.”
Eric Schickler, the co-director of the Berkeley IGS, came to a similar conclusion, writing that the polling results “suggest that the sports wagering initiatives are foundering in the face of the opposition advertising campaigns.” Mr. Schickler noticed that both sides have failed to gain support among key demographic groups, making the passage of each “an uphill climb, at best.”
The IGS poll found that exposure to advertisements about the two measures appears to be a factor in voters’ stance on the measures, with voters who have seen many ads voting “no” by “wide margins.” By contrast, those who have seen few or no ads are “about evenly divided.”
The polling results also show that “virtually all voter subgroups” oppose Proposition 27, including both Democrats and Republicans, men and women, and conservatives and liberals alike.
The majority of Republicans and Democrats also oppose Proposition 26, though liberal voters are more splintered. While 50% of Republican voters say they oppose Prop 26, just 38% of Democratic voters say they would vote “no,” 32% say they would vote “yes,” and 30% remain undecided.
If both initiatives are rejected by voters, Mr. Danzis said that doesn’t mean it will end the push to legalize sports betting in some form in California. Mr. Danzis said some tribes are already working on a ballot proposal for 2024 if the initiatives fail, noting that there’s also a chance lawmakers take up a legislative proposal in 2023.
“At the end of the day, the voters of California are gonna have the final say on this,” Mr. Danzis said. “I think based on evidence that we’ve seen in almost any other state where this has been debated publicly, there is strong public support for legalized sports gambling. I think what we’re seeing in California are, quite frankly, two flawed proposals to the public, and they’re seeing right through it.”
Thus far, Gov. Gavin Newsom has remained neutral on his position on the initiatives, but legislative leaders on both sides of the political aisle have come out against Proposition 27. The leading Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the Legislature issued statements in August contending that tribes should maintain the right to operate gaming in California, urging voters to cast a “no” vote.
The tribes opposed to Proposition 27 include the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, whose tribal chairman, Kenneth Kahn, has appeared in TV commercials against the measure.
News-Press Managing Editor Dave Mason contributed to this report.