Skelton: Poll shows voters are turned off by Props. 26, 27

You’d never know from the incessant TV ads, but troubled horse racing would benefit greatly from a sports betting initiative in November’s election.

In fact, Proposition 26 is considered by some to be the savior of thoroughbred racing in California.

It would allow sports betting on professional games – soccer etc. – in tribal casinos and four horse racing tracks: Santa Anita, Del Mar, Los Alamitos and Golden Gate.

The aim is to attract more punters to the routes where the number of visitors has fallen sharply in recent years.

“We had trouble introducing the sport to young people,” said Gary Fenton, CEO of Thoroughbred Owners of California. “Our demographics are old.”

Sports betting, which is illegal in California with the exception of horse racing, would also bring more players to tribal casinos. And casino gambling would be enhanced by allowing roulette and craps. They are now banned in the state.

Bettors must be at least 21 years old. Betting on high school or college games would still be illegal. There would be a 10% state tax on winnings from sports betting at the circuits. The casinos have pledged to pay the state 15%.

But private polls show that Proposition 26 is way behind and likely to lose along with another entirely different sports betting initiative, Proposition 27.

Proposition 27 would legalize online sports betting. There would be the same 10% tax and age restrictions as under 26.

A poll released last week by the Public Policy Institute of California found that Proposition 27 was supported by only 34% of likely voters and opposed by 54%. That means we can start writing his obituary.

A major reason both measures lose is that Proposition 26’s key supporters, tribes, fear approving online sports betting more than they want in-person sports betting at their casinos. Your top priority is defeating Proposition 27.

So they didn’t promote their own measure. No wonder it hasn’t garnered widespread support. Virtually all their effort and money went into the 27 caning.

Tribes believe it is a threat to their casinos because simple online betting would be allowed at home on a smartphone or laptop. No need to drive miles to a casino to play.

And it’s not just online sports betting that the tribes fear. It’s what they thought would come next: online poker, blackjack, and slots – regular casino games that are far more profitable than sports betting.

Tribes currently have a monopoly on casino gambling in California. The voters gave it to them. They feel threatened by Proposition 27, which is primarily sponsored by extra-state online interests, including FanDuel and DraftKings.

Another reason Proposition 27 failed, I suspect, is the barrage of insincere television advertising. They imply that 27 is the solution to homelessness. That’s because 85% of their taxes would go to homelessness programs.

But that amount — up to $425 million a year, based on data from legislative analysts — doesn’t compare to what the state is already spending: $7.6 billion in this fiscal year alone. Money is not the issue; it is the lack of prudent politics.

Proposition 27 ads also show some native Californians supporting the measure, claiming it would greatly benefit the tribes. But that too is dishonest.

Although 15% of the tax – potentially up to $75 million – would go to some no-casino tribes, the vast majority of tribes are strongly opposed to 27. The larger casinos currently share nearly $150 million with tribes that are small or no casinos at all.

Voters just aren’t buying what the Proposition 27 camp has been trying to sell.

“People think homelessness is a big problem, but they obviously don’t make the connection to Prop. 27,” said Mark Baldassare, the PPIC president and pollster.

Just recently, the 27-team has shared with viewers in major match broadcasts what the offer really does: fans can bet on their teams without leaving the couch.

“If you’re a sports fan who wants to bet on games, that’s what you need to hear as opposed to a lot of other things,” says Baldassare.

Meanwhile, both sides in this TV ad war have already amassed an obscene record $470 million.

Voters are fed up with the ad bombardment and confused I think.

“If there is confusion, voters will wander,” says Baldassare.

In this struggle, the conflicting claims about Proposition 27 have rubbed off on Proposition 26 and created confusion about it. Both measures shut down voters.

They also need to realize that more gambling – especially online – would mean more gambling addiction.

“Online sports betting could make it harder for people with gambling addictions to avoid placing bets,” the legislative analyst wrote in the state’s official voter guide. “This could increase the number of people who may need government assistance.”

Californians seem content with the gambling that exists. There are 66 tribal casinos, 84 card rooms, 29 racetrack fairs and 23,000 shops selling lottery tickets.

You can also bet at home on horse racing – the only sport that California accepts for online betting. According to Fenton, an estimated 60% of horse racing bets are placed online. Around 30% are produced at 23 simulcast locations. Only 10% are used on racetracks.

Racing’s efforts to get more people onto the track weren’t helped by image-damaging thoroughbred fatalities in 2019. More than 100 horses died at California racetracks that year. Since then, the industry has reformed its equine medications, and the number of deaths has fallen dramatically.

But in this campaign, horse racing has been let down. It’s never mentioned.

And since Proposition 26 doesn’t even advertise itself, why should voters respond to it? Proposition 27 has always been a lousy bet. You are both losers.

Next time the tracks should choose a better horse. Skelton: Poll shows voters are turned off by Props. 26, 27

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