Online sports gambling companies, California tribes and card rooms have spent more than $410 million on a pair of ballot measures to legalize in-person and online sports betting.
If either side thought Proposition 26 or 27 could win, they made a bad bet.
A new poll from UC Berkeley’s Institute for Governmental Studies, sponsored by The Times, shows voters are less likely to approve either measure in November.
Voters who said they saw a lot of advertising about the proposals were more likely to oppose the measures than those who saw no advertising.
“I think it’s the negative ads that drive voters away,” said Berkeley IGS poll director Mark DiCamillo. “People who haven’t seen ads are equally divided, but people who have seen a lot of ads are against it. That’s why advertising doesn’t help.”
Proposition 26 would allow individual sports betting at tribal casinos and horse racing tracks. According to a Berkeley poll of 6,939 likely voters in California, she won just 31% support from likely voters, compared to 42% opposed.
Proposition 27, which would allow online sports betting, fared even worse – 27% of likely voters supported and 53% opposed.
Supporters of the measures bombarded voters with ads and in the process wiped out the state’s previous campaign spending records, but they faced an uphill battle from the start. A Berkeley IGS poll conducted in February showed that Californians are open to the idea of legalized sports betting, but having two competing initiatives often makes each one more difficult to pass, DiCamillo said.
Proposition 27 is funded by gambling companies, including sports betting companies DraftKings and FanDuel. The companies, which control a large portion of the online sports betting market in the United States, must partner with a California tribe and pony up $100 million to get a license in the state. The tribes can also offer sports betting platforms on their own with a $10-million entry fee.
Tribes and gambling companies with sports betting licenses will pay the state 10 percent of sports bets each month, after deducting certain expenses and losses. The initiative would direct revenue to programs for homelessness and gambling addiction, with a smaller cut for tribes that participate in online sports betting, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office.
The leaders of California’s four most successful Native American tribes with gaming interests are the original proponents of Proposition 26, the private sports betting measure. It would impose a 10 percent tax on sports betting to fund gambling addiction treatment and enforcement programs.
A coalition of more than 30 tribes supports Proposition 26, with major funding from the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians in Palm Springs, the Barona Band of Mission Indians in Lakeside and the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation in rural Yolo County.
Only three tribes support Proposition 27, while 51 tribes oppose the measure. That hasn’t stopped online sports betting companies from running spots suggesting the tribes take a step back. Opponents countered with their ads, creating a complex array of claims for voters to navigate.
Thad Kousser, a political science professor at UC San Diego, said voters overwhelmingly supported efforts to allow tribes to benefit economically from legalized gaming, which he described as “the social contract on gaming in California.”
“DraftKings and FanDuel don’t have that,” he said. “They are trying to get their way out of a political hole.”
When faced with an onslaught of ads, voters often tune out the message and suspect the source.
“They’re starting to say this is about some wealthy interests trying to buy this election,” Kousser said. “Any time you spend large amounts, it creates that initiative in the voters.”
Kathy Fairbanks, spokeswoman for the Yes on 26/No on 27 campaign, said her side is grateful “that voters seem to be rejecting out-of-state gambling companies and their $170 million fraud campaign.”
The 27th Yes campaign pointed the finger at its opponents in the same way.
“[Proposition] 27 took more than $100 million in fraudulent and false attacks — $45 million before we even qualified for the ballot,” said Nathan Click, a spokesman for that ballot campaign. “It tells these same opponents who are funding these ads, has not spent money to support its sports betting offer, [Proposition] 26.”
Younger voters were more likely to support gambling expansion, while older voters were more opposed. Voters who were big fans of pro sports were also more likely to support expansion.
Most Democrats and Republicans opposed Proposition 27. Democrats were closely divided on individual sports betting, with only 28% of GOP voters supporting Proposition 26 and a half opposing the measure.
Other proposals funded by corporate interests fared better.
Just under half of likely voters favor Proposition 30, which would require wealthy Californians to pay 1.75% in personal income taxes on annual earnings above $2 million starting in 2023. .
Ride-sharing company Lyft is a major backer of the proposal, spending more than $45 million so far to persuade voters to pass it. The state has mandated ride-sharing companies convert their fleets to electric vehicles by 2030, and Proposition 30 would greatly help the cost of doing so.
80 percent of the revenue will be used to encourage the purchase of new zero-emission vehicles and the installation and operation of charging stations for such vehicles. The rest of the money raised will go towards forest fire protection and prevention.
Although the measure has support among some environmental groups and has been endorsed by the California Democratic Party, Governor Gavin Newsom calls it “corporate welfare” and strongly opposes it. The measure is a “cynical scheme” by Lyft, the governor said.
According to the poll, 49% of likely voters favor the ballot measure, compared to 37% who oppose it. The rest were undecided.
While that may sound like good news to supporters of the initiative, the lack of support from more than 50% of likely voters is a clear warning sign, DiCamillo said.
“It’s one in the game. It might not cross the finish line,” he said. “When voters are undecided, they tend to vote no. You have to be confident about a proposal that changes the status quo.”
Newsom’s strong opposition to Proposition 30 is her biggest threat, DiCamillo added.
“The ‘No’ campaign is easier. All they have to do is raise some doubts and raise some fears,” DiCamillo said. The ‘Yes’ side has to convince voters that a change to the status quo is necessary.”
The outlook for Proposition 31, which would ban the sale of most flavored tobacco products in stores and vending machines, was much clearer.
Big tobacco companies have spent tens of millions of dollars to convince Californians to vote against Proposition 31 and allow the sale of flavored tobacco products to continue.
Their efforts are failing: A large majority of likely voters support the ban, with 57% in favor, 31% opposed and 12% undecided, the poll found. The support of the majority came regardless of age, gender or income; conservatives were equally divided on the measure.
“This is more of a health issue for voters,” DiCamillo said.
The ban was approved by the House and signed into law by Newsom in 2020, but was suspended in 2021 after a referendum that put the legislation on the November 2022 ballot.
When a referendum challenging a state law is up for a vote, the law is suspended until voters decide whether to take effect.
In the race for governor, Newsom seems headed for an easy election. The poll found that 53% of likely voters said they would vote for Newsom compared to 32% who supported state Sen. Brian Dahle, a conservative Republican from the Northern California town of Bieber. 12 percent were undecided.
Dahle’s support rose slightly from a poll in August, while it remained steady for Newsom.
The Berkeley IGS poll was conducted online Sept. 22-27 among 8,725 registered California voters, including 6,939 who will vote in the November election. The sample was weighted to conform to census and voter registration criteria. Because of the weighting, exact estimates of the margin of error are difficult, but the results are estimated to have 2.5 points of error on either side for a sample of likely voters.