California Sports Betting Is Most Expensive Ballot Campaign in U.S. History

California Sports Betting Is Most Expensive Ballot Campaign in U.S. History article feature image

Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images. Pictured: A general view of the exterior of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California.

The high-stakes battle for California sports betting became the most expensive ballot campaign in U.S. history after the latest rounds of funding from Native American tribes and online gaming companies.

They've spent over $322 million in opposition and support of Prop 27 — which would legalize online sports betting in California, according to the California Secretary of State‘s database.

That's almost $100 million more than interest groups spent on a 2020 initiative to exempt Uber and Lyft drivers from employee-status in California, the previous most funded campaign of any state, according to the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, a nonprofit that studies voter referendums.

The largest donations in support come from Fanatics, Penn Entertainment, BetMGM, DraftKings and FanDuel.

The largest donations in opposition come from the Pechanga Band of Indians, Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Barona Band of Mission Indians and Pala Casino Resort Spa.

Competing Interests at Play

Their record spending should come as no surprise to Californians, who've been bombarded every which way with Prop 27 ads ahead of the Nov. 8 election. August has seen four new campaign commercials.

A competing initiative to legalize sports betting exclusively inside tribal casinos has received $148 million in contributions, though tribal gaming groups and their allies have spent more to stop Prop 27. They're joined by notable groups such as the NAACP and the California Teachers Association.

Should a majority of voters vote "Yes on 27," it would usher FanDuel, DraftKings and co. into the largest U.S. gaming market and effectively end tribal casinos' thirty year monopoly on gaming in the Golden State. It's backed by several groups, including Major League Baseball, and three tribes uninvolved in gaming.

Those tribes would receive 15% of tax revenue from online sports betting, with the bulk remainder funding solutions toward homelessness and mental health.

Contributions Are Pennies Compared to Market Size

At roughly twice the population size as New York, California is considered the crown jewel, not just of the remaining 14 state yet to legalize sports betting, but of the entire country.

Eilers & Krejcik Gaming estimates a mature online sports betting market in California could generate $3 billion in annual revenue. New Jersey, the all-time leader in sports betting revenue, generated $816 million in 2021.

California's Democratic and Republican parties both oppose Prop 27. Republicans oppose the more limited tribal casino measure as well, while Democrats have declined to take a position on it.

Should it pass, they'd be obliged to enact one of the more operator-friendly structures in the country.

Commercial operators would pay a 10% tax under Prop 27, more than five times cheaper than New York's rate.

Tribal gaming groups have filed for an additional ballot measure in 2024 that would legalize online sports betting exclusively under their control, though it's yet to qualify.

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