Californian betting referendum campaign ignites tensions

August 2, 2022 Pen highlighting text in a book

With a little over three months to go before California goes to the polls, campaigning for the referendum proposals on sports betting has ignited with claims and counter-claim. Advertisements for and against the proposals being voted on this November have centered in the past week on what the legislation will mean for the state’s tribal population. The primary division has emerged between larger tribes who oppose the legislation, and smaller ones who have been broadly supportive of the measures on the ballot.

The primary flashpoint in this week’s tensions arose as a result of two separate advertisements, one from Californians for Tribal Sovereignty and Safe Gaming, and a response from Californians for Solutions to Homelessness and Mental Health Support. The former group, which is campaigning against the measures, says that a loophole in the legislation would lead to 90% of gambling revenue leaving the state and ending up in the pockets of betting companies.

“Californians for Solutions”, meanwhile, is arguing that maintaining the status quo would see larger tribes continue to benefit from the limited betting that already takes place, while smaller tribes would be left out of funding.

Tensions rose to their highest level yet when “Californians for Solutions” unveiled an advertisement with the core message that wealthier tribes, who already run large casinos in the state, have been profiting for years while smaller tribes are left in poverty. Their argument centers on the fact that under the new legislation, firms seeking to offer sports betting would have to establish a partnership with an in-state tribe, and that even the tribes who do not participate in betting would have access to an economic development fund that would be created under the legislation.

The waters of this argument are muddied by the fact that opinion is genuinely divided between tribes. Chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, James Siva, has stated that more than fifty tribes in the state are against Proposition 27, which would devote 15% of the tax raised by betting to the aforementioned economic development fund. However, there are more than 110 federally-recognized tribes in the state. While not all have registered an opinion publicly, many of the smaller tribes have registered their support for the proposition.

With months of campaigning still to go before polling day, these arguments are unlikely to cease, but close attention will be paid to where the arguments go from here. No lobbying group can credibly claim to speak for the entirety of Californian tribal opinion, and any claim to speak for the majority will be loudly contested.

It should be noted, too, that interests beyond the tribal communities in question have a stake in backing pro- and anti-legislation campaigns, and undertakings from them to play a part in benefiting the broader community regardless of the eventual referendum results might help to de-escalate tensions in what is becoming an increasingly fractious campaign. One way or another, there will be a need to work within whatever framework is dictated by the eventual results of the vote.

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