by Tucker Caraway and Camille Delany
Proposition 27, on the ballot this November, would legalize online and mobile sports betting outside tribal lands. Despite record spending on the campaigns for and against the proposition, widespread advertisements do not make this clear.
Yes on 27, funded by online gaming companies, claims that the proposition is primarily a “solution” to “California’s homelessness and mental health crises.” No on 27, funded by tribal organizations, counters those claims and asserts that the proposition puts more Californians at risk for gambling addiction and infringes on tribal sovereignty.
The Yes on 27 campaign ads vary widely in their messaging. “Vote yes on online sports betting, and protect tribal sovereignty, and help Californians that need help the most,” one video promoting Prop 27 states, a wide-ranging claim.
Cal Poly Humboldt political science professor Dr. Stephanie Burkhalter describes the Prop 27 ads as “very sophisticated.” She said that she has overheard students expressing confusion about their messaging. According to Burkhalter, “Their inclination is to support tribal sovereignty,” but the mixed messages from the advertisements don’t make it clear whether supporting or opposing the proposition is the best way to do so.
The situation is made more confusing for voters by the fact that there are two different initiatives on the ballot this November to legalize sports betting in California. Prop 26 would legalize sports betting only at tribal casinos and California’s four horse racetracks, and is less contentious than 27. Many tribes oppose or remain neutral on Prop 26, while Prop 27 is firmly opposed by the majority of tribes.
Burkhalter explained that if Prop 27 passes, not just any online gambling would be legal in California. For a company to offer online betting under Prop 27, it must pay $100 million for a license, and must partner with a tribe that holds a tribal-state gambling compact.
“Because [online gambling licenses] can only be offered through federally recognized tribes, the sponsors [of Prop 27] had to partner with certain tribes,” Burkhalter said. “So those tribes, while supportive, are a small minority of all the tribes in California.”
CPH Native American Studies (NAS) and Critical Race, Gender, & Sexualiy Studies (CRGS) professor Dr. Rain Marshall explained that each tribe has a different, confidential contract with the state of California for revenue profit sharing. If Prop 26 were to pass, it would require tribes to renegotiate these contracts, a long and arduous process that many mistrust.
“Negotiating a new contract is timely and costly,” Marshall said. “The tribes are probably like, ‘You know what, we’re good how we are, it took us forever to negotiate this contract with the state.’”
Additionally, the $100 million necessary to secure a license guarantees that the online gaming companies that will benefit from Prop 27’s passage are already large and well-funded, with many headquartered out-of-state. Prop 26 doesn’t involve the corporations that support Prop 27, which is a reason why it’s preferred by some, including certain tribes.
“By far Prop 26 would support native sovereignty because it doesn’t involve these corporate conglomerates,” Marshall said. But it has still failed to gain resounding support from tribes, with many still remaining neutral or saying “No” on 26.