It’s the political version of an “earworm song” for the 2022 elections in California. Messaging around tribal sovereignty and online gambling appears to be sticking in Californians’ heads, as California Democrats recently announced their positions on the state’s ballot measures for November.
Although the Democratic Party in California did not endorse the Tribal Sports Betting Act, it took a far more negative tone on the California Solutions to Homeless and Mental Health Support Act. For the latter of those two, the list of major allies seemingly only grows thinner.
California Democrats oppose Prop 27
On Sunday, the state’s Democratic Party voted to oppose the Solutions to Homelessness Act, officially Prop 27, on November’s ballot. Party Chair Rusty Hicks detailed why the firmly negative sentiment won the day.
“We stand with California’s Native American tribes and reject this threat to their tribal sovereignty,” Hicks stated.
This is no surprise. Tribal casino operators in the state are among major donors as it is the most powerful political party in the state by a wide margin. For example, former California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra took over half a million from tribal casinos in 2018 in support of his campaign.
The Public Policy Institute of California says that nearly half of all registered voters in the state registered as Democrats.
Prop 27 would legalize online sports betting in California. Recent attack ads opposing the ballot measure have maligned it as an attempt by out-of-state companies to appropriate control of gambling away from tribal groups in violation of tribes’ compacts with California.
It seems that messaging has landed, albeit in an expected place. However, the tribes’ donations to Democrats were not sufficient to get the Party firmly in their corner on their own ballot measure.
Democrats indifferent to Prop 26 in California
The Party’s vote on Prop 26 was far from a ringing endorsement of the Tribal Sports Betting Act on Sunday. Prop 26, as the Act will appear on the ballot, got a neutral stance from the Party.
Prop 26 would legalize in-person wagering on sporting events inside tribal casinos within California’s borders. The Proposition does not govern online wagering. It would also give tribal casinos leave to sue California card rooms that they believe are violating their exclusivity on certain types of card games.
That last item is what apparently prevented the Democrats from endorsing Prop 26. California card rooms are major employers in multiple cities in the state. Many of the workers belong to unions and see the language of Prop 26 as a threat to the card rooms’ viability.
Thus, the Party decided to split the difference and remain neutral. Regardless, the overall situation still bodes well for tribal casino operators who would like to see their own version of an online sports betting initiative become law in two years’ time.
Ramifications for the California 2024 ballot
Earlier this year, a coalition of tribal casino operators was trying to get its own competing online sports betting referendum onto the ballot. In May, they decided to delay that action until 2024.
The shared reasoning was that differentiating the two online sports betting measures would confuse voters and could lead to the defeat of both. Instead, the tribal casino operators would focus on defeating Prop 27 this year.
Whether the Democrats would support a tribal coalition-backed online sports betting ballot measure is speculative at this point. It also might be a moot point if Prop 27 passes. It does seem likely, however, that Democrats would not oppose the 2024 ballot measure on tribal sovereignty grounds.
That’s not an absolutely foregone conclusion, though. Two tribal casino operators have deviated from the coalition and endorsed Prop 27 this year. The potential 2024 measure could fragment them even more. It’s also unclear if the Democrats’ opposition actually spells doom for Prop 27 this year.
Does this mean California online sports betting will have to wait?
Like the opposition of the California Teachers Association, Prop 27 opposition from a political party that has enjoyed plentiful support from tribal casinos probably is no surprise to Prop 27 proponents. However, if those proponents do have powerful allies in the state, it seems the time to activate them.
It doesn’t appear that Democrats are going to devote a lot of resources to seeing Prop 27 defeated. Thus, this won’t add to the already existing amount of anti-Prop 27 messaging significantly.
Entities that have remained mostly silent on this issue include professional sports teams in the state. It might be time for Prop 27 advocates to start selling the virtues of the proposition to them. Support from even just a few of them could level the influence field.
If Prop 27 fails, there will likely be no legal online sports betting in California for at least another two years. Democrats are now repeating the threat to tribal sovereignty “song.”