2022 Gubernatorial Races & Gambling: West Coast Elections Could Have Consequences For Gaming

Written By Derek Helling on June 2, 2022
Part 4 Of The 2022 Governors Races Which Could Impact The Future Of Gambling

The majority of voters in the United States will go to the polls to determine who their next governors will be in November. In many of those states, that person will either stay in or take office amid debates on the status of legal gambling.

This is the final installment of a four-part series looking at such governors’ races. Here are the first three editions:

Two Pacific Coast states seem on the precipice of making a move in terms of gambling expansion. What role the next governor will play in those proceedings in each state could be quite different, however.

What both states have in common is that the next governor could have a heavy hand in regulating gaming over the next term. In one of these states, who that person could be is a lot clearer than in the other.

California’s choice could wade into fraught industry

Considering how active California tribal casinos are in Sacramento, Gov. Gavin Newsom‘s relative silence on gaming issues throughout his time in office is kind of remarkable. While he has overseen the renewal of several gaming compacts, Newsom has avoided taking sides in the ongoing dispute between card room operators and tribal casinos in the state.

That extends to the current debate over legalizing sports betting, too. Newsom has stayed silent on a pair of ballot measures. Should voters approve either this year, though, he may have to take a role in regulatory legislation for the new gambling type.

California has a non-partisan primary in early June to dwindle the field down. Newsom seems the front runner among the Democrats on the ballot, while California Sen. Brian Dahle looks to be the leading Republican challenger among a field of four serious contenders.

Dahle has followed Newsom’s lead in terms of avoiding wading into gaming issues. In fact, a statement on them might be more important for the sports betting ballot questions than the governor’s race.

The campaign to legalize online sports betting in California has enlisted former Newsom allies. Among the backers of the Californians for Solutions to Homelessness and Mental Health Support group are two former Newsom staffers.

So far, there have been no underlying overtures to any other candidates. Newsom has not publicly lent his support to either ballot measure yet. It’s unclear if he will do so. California tribal casino operators were among his biggest donors when he fought a recall last year.

That may have “bought” Newsom’s neutrality on the issue. However, Dahle might prove more of an unknown for gambling in the state. The governor’s role could be an active one if either ballot measure passes in November.

Oregon’s next governor also faces challenges

One of the nation’s incumbents facing a term limit is Kate Brown. While Oregon gambling has expanded during her time in office, it hasn’t been a consistent slog of wins for gaming. Brown recently essentially ordered the state’s racing commission to deny a license for historical horse racing machines.

As a result of that, the state’s lone horse racetrack, Grants Pass Downs, canceled its meet for 2022. Thus, Brown will leave the office with some in the state likely happy to see her go. That doesn’t mean her replacement will be more favorable to commercial gaming interests, though.

On May 17, voters in Oregon chose Tina Kotek as their Democratic candidate and Christine Drazan as the Republican candidate. Neither candidate has yet made gambling a key issue of their campaigns.

Kotek was the speaker of the Oregon House in 2013 when the legislature authorized historical horse racing gambling. Neither candidate has a strong connection to the gaming industry in the state, though.

That isn’t to say that gambling forces in the state will be shy when it comes to making political donations. It’s just that recently, that specific action has been on defeating or supporting pieces of legislation as opposed to the gubernatorial race.

Brown largely took a neutral role in terms of gambling, with the exception of the recent Flying Lark intervention. Whether her replacement would do the same thing remains to be seen.

Like Brown, the state’s next governor could opt to leave that to members of the legislature to deal with. Commercial and tribal gambling proponents both could try to woo the affections of whoever takes Brown’s place.

Photo by Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press
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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a lead writer for PlayUSA and the manager of BetHer. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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