Commentary: Gambling interests could break campaign spending record

Get ready Californians.

The onslaught of political ads that will be upon us this election season is more intense than ever, with most trained on two dueling measures to enable sports betting. Gambling interests have already raised some $350 million campaigning for and against Propositions 26 and 27 in November’s election. It’s a staggering sum of money, even for a state used to large-scale campaigns, and pundits expect that The total can grow to half a billion dollars until the election is over.

That dwarfs the $224 million spent on it the voting measure 2020 that Uber and Lyft pushed to change the state labor code — breaking the record at the time most expensive campaign in California history. Ride-hailing apps were willing to spend so much because the offer represented an investment that would allow them to save money in the long run by not treating their drivers as employees.

Similarly, this year voters will be urged to make valuable long-term business decisions for the gaming industry. At stake is whether California will allow sports betting and if so, who will pocket the winnings. Proposal 26 On-site sports betting at tribal casinos and racecourses. Proposal 27 would enable sports betting online on platforms operated by California tribes or companies affiliated with them.

You’ve probably seen some of the ads trying to convince you that online sports betting is generating a tax windfall that could solve homelessness, or that it’s nothing but a greedy move by big corporations. Another ad pits poor tribes against rich tribes in a particularly depressing attempt at voter manipulation. Get ready for a lot more as the pro and contra Proposition 26 and 27 campaigns have bought up a ton of airtime.

Sports betting companies including FanDuel and DraftKings have pumped $150 million into a campaign in support of Proposition 27. Several tribes that own casinos have donated $92 million to support Proposition 26 and oppose Proposition 27. Other tribes have donated $66 million just to reject Proposition 27. Cardrooms have raised $41 million to crack down on Proposition 26.

The huge sums and high stakes show once again how much the California system of direct democracy – originally intended as a populist tool to bypass corporate influence in the legislature – has changed a place for industry struggles and a special interest forum to write their own laws and regulations through the ballot box.

Also on the November vote: a measure cigarette makers spent $20 million to push Repeal of California’s ban on flavored tobacco Products (Proposition 31) and a health care union fight that dialysis clinics can beat with as little as $40 million (Proposition 29). Even a pro-environmental measure to tax the wealthy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by subsidizing the electric vehicle market has a special angle of interest: Proposition 30 is funded almost entirely by Lyftwho would benefit as they are ride hailing companies required to switch to clean vehicles until 2030.

But none of them will get as much attention as the sports betting measures, which could create a roughly $3 billion sports betting market if California becomes the 34th state to legalize the practice. This potential prize has drawn Native American tribes, cardrooms and online sports betting sites into a turf war of complex loyalties and longstanding beefs. There are feuds between tribes and cardrooms, between cardrooms and racecourses, and between tribes and online sportsbooks. Everyone involved in the gambling business seems to be fighting for a bigger piece of the pie.

A tribal leader balked when I said that during an editorial meeting for the Yes to Proposition 26 campaign. (We are meeting with all national campaigners and will publish our recommendations next month.)

“Tribes have been called many things over the years. I’m not entirely sure we’ve ever been called a faction in the gambling industry,” said Butch Murphy, a councilor for the Pechanga Band of Indians, which has contributed $15 million to a campaign to allow and oppose sports betting in tribal casinos to place online sports betting.

“We are a tribal nation who just so happened to be in the gambling business because of the opportunity. Thankfully, we’ve worked hard enough to make this business a success, and we’ve been able to bring a better life to our 2,000 members.”

While tribal leaders may not see themselves as part of the gambling industry, there is no doubt that legalizing sports betting would create a pot of gold for all parties allowed to participate in the new industry – which is why so much money is pouring into the Proposal 26 campaigns and 27 cast. That leaves voters to analyze technical, complex measures that decide who wins and who loses. You bet. Commentary: Gambling interests could break campaign spending record

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