Skelton: Do we really need more gambling in California?
California is plagued by wildfires, drought, homelessness, unaffordable housing and some of the highest gas prices in the country. And there’s scary inflation and devastating climate change.
So what’s our biggest concern? What keeps us up at night? It should be all from above.
But chances are it’s not the lack of gambling opportunities – especially for betting on pro sports.
But sports betting – whether online, in tribal casinos or remaining illegal – is the highest-stakes fight of the proposals in November’s California election.
At last count, an obscene $362 million was raised to promote or oppose two initiatives to expand legal gambling in California – a gargantuan jackpot for political advisers, advertisers and television networks. By Election Day, the total is expected to reach half a billion dollars.
That’s the most money ever spent on a fight in California. The previous record was $224 million in a 2020 referendum to repeal laws that would have required Uber and Lyft to treat their drivers as employees rather than independent contractors. The companies far outpaced union supporters of the legislation and won.
This year, Propositions 26 and 27 will be opposed by Native American tribes in California and out-of-state online gambling interests including FanDuel and DraftKings. The winner’s pot is a multi-billion dollar share of expanded legal betting.
The eye-catcher is sports betting, which is now illegal in California but legal in 33 other states.
The primary reason for legalizing sports betting in California — although it is not the campaign’s main battleground — was expressed Wednesday by State Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa) after he co-chaired a legislative briefing hearing on the two ballot initiatives.
“The hearing underscored that illegal sports betting now occurs without regulation, protection or benefit to our state,” Dodd said. “This illegal activity should be brought out of the shadows and generate revenue to improve our condition.”
He expressed no preference between the two proposals, which are very different.
Proposal 26 would allow in-person sports betting at tribal casinos and at four horse racing tracks: Santa Anita, Del Mar, Los Alamitos and Golden Gate.
There would be a 10% state tax on winnings from sports betting at the circuits. The legislative analyst predicts the state would take in “tens of millions of dollars” annually. Tribes have pledged to pay the state 15% of their casino winnings.
The measure would also allow roulette and craps in casinos, games that are now illegal.
Both proposals would require bettors to be at least 21 years of age. And there would be no wagering on high school or college games.
Proposition 27 would legalize online sports betting when offered by an outfit partnered with a California tribe.
There would be a state profits tax of 10%. The legislative analyst estimates this could bring in “potentially hundreds of millions of dollars, but probably no more than $500 million a year.”
The main argument made by the proponents in the TV ad is that 85% of the tax would go to homelessness programs. The remaining 15% would be shared with non-participating tribes.
Looking at 27’s TV spots, you might think the whole idea of the proposal is to solve homelessness.
“It’s a unique opportunity to create a real, lasting source of funding for homelessness without raising anyone’s income tax,” said Nathan Click, spokesperson for the Proposition 27 campaign.
But let’s assume the tax generated the highest amount for homelessness predicted by the Legislative Analyst, $425 million. That’s still small compared to the $7.6 billion the state is spending this year. And for next year, $2.6 billion has already been allocated.
What takes more than money to end homelessness is a viable, politically viable plan.
The great concern of many tribes is that if Proposition 27 is passed, non-Indigenous interests will infiltrate their California gambling monopoly. In 1998 voters gave the tribes the exclusive right to operate casinos in California. The tribes believe that the online operators are not really looking for sports betting but a way to also offer card games and very profitable slot machines.
“Proposition 27 breaks the promise California voters made to California Indians over 20 years ago,” Sara Dutschke, chairwoman of the Ione Band of Miwok Indians, told the Legislative Committee on Wednesday.
“The attack on our rights is not surprising. Historically, when we have the means to be self-reliant, they are taken from us. We lost our country. With it the wealth of water, gold and agriculture.”
There’s another problem that affects us all: When big bets are brought into the home or workplace, Dad can conveniently throw away a month’s rent or a state benefit check when betting on a Dodgers game. And why encourage addiction by making it ultra convenient to gamble?
There are also concerns that children will set up fake online accounts and become addicted to gambling.
“That would turn every cell phone, laptop and tablet into a gaming device,” says Jacob Mejia, vice president of public affairs for the Pechanga Band of Indians. He is spokesman for a yes-to-26-no-to-27 coalition.
Click says it’s “fear mongering”.
But seriously, do Californians really need more gambling opportunities? There are 66 tribal casinos, 84 cardrooms, 29 racetrack fairs and 23,000 stores selling state lottery tickets. That is much.
Proposition 27 is a bad choice for California. And Proposition 26 needs a closer look.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-08-11/skelton-gambling-california-propositions Skelton: Do we really need more gambling in California?