Californians Should Vote No On Sports Betting Props 26, 27

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The editorial board operates independently of the UT newsroom but is held to similar ethical standards. We base our editorials and recommendations on rigorous reporting, interviews and debates, and strive to be accurate, fair and courteous in our section. To disagree? Let us know.

Two proposals on the Nov. 8 ballot would sharply increase sports betting in California. Proposition 26 would allow in-person sports betting at tribal casinos and racetracks. Proposition 27 would allow online sports betting on platforms run by tribes and gaming companies.

But the staggering $440 million spent on and against Propositions 26 and 27 during the last official reporting period seem to have thrown the dice. A new poll from the Institute of Government Studies at UC Berkeley co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times found none of the measures had support even a third of the voters questioned. With about a month to go until Election Day – and with mail-in voting about to begin – the odds of winning either look long.

It’s good news. The San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board opposes both measures for simple reasons that go beyond reservations about ballot box budgeting, unclear effects on tribes whose views on this issue and legitimate apprehensions about the risk to society when barriers to legal sports betting are lowered.

Proposal 26, which is less extensive, would allow in-person sports betting at Native American casinos and the state’s four racetracks, and let tribal casinos add roulette and dice games. The tracks would give the state a 10% betting cut and the casinos would negotiate pacts on their payouts. Funds would go to schools, gambling addiction programs, gambling law enforcement and general uses. But defenders have no good explanation for why the measure includes an extremely self-serving clause that makes it easier for tribes to sue and punish rival card room operators. And they barely respond to criticism that the measure would support racetracks at a time when concerns about their treatment of horses have never been more intense.

Proposal 27with major funding by giant US betting platforms DraftKings and FanDuel, would allow online sports betting on sites run by California tribes and partner companies, with a 10% state betting tax. Although small chunks of revenue would go to fund homeless relief programs and interestless tribes in online betting, the measure is best seen as an effort by out-of-state corporations to manipulate direct democracy to to make huge profits.

But another big problem is that Proposition 27’s ability to quickly capture a large share of online bets is highly exaggerated. Newbies who have been reluctant to use their phones and laptops to bet with theoretically illegal online sportsbooks based in the Caribbean and Europe can sign up. But existing online bettors? This group includes 52 percent of all sports gamers, according to a 2020 report from the US Gaming Association. And they can easily get better payouts on websites that earn less than California. Attempts to block the use of these more lucrative offshore websites are easily thwarted by cheap virtual private networks (VPNs). This fact will also hurt the ability of racetracks to attack sports bettors – and reduce revenue assumptions by 26 as well as 27. The parallels with Proposition 64 — the measurement of the 2016 election which assumed, incorrectlythat the app would allow legal cannabis to crowd out cheaper illegal products and create a flood of new revenue for the state — are obvious.

Future California ballot measures on gaming are inevitable. They should also be better designed. The San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board recommends voting “no” on Propositions 26 and 27.

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