But they may not be alone in suffering defeat when it comes to having legal sports betting in the most lucrative U.S. market.
With only five weeks left before state voters head to the polls for the November 8 mid-term election, a poll released yesterday by the Los Angeles Times and the University of California at Berkeley suggested there is very little chance of passage for Proposition 27, the sportsbook-sponsored bill to legalize mobile sports wagering in the Golden State.
The poll showed likely voters are rejecting Prop 27 by a sweeping 53% to 27% margin (with a 2.5 percentage point margin of error), echoing the results from the findings of a previous Public Policy Institute California poll released on Sept. 15 that also had likely voters rejecting the bill.
However, the poll also revealed that the rival Proposition 26, which would have allowed only for in-person sports wagering at tribal casinos and horse racing tracks, is also facing defeat, with only 31% of likely voters surveyed favoring the bill, compared to 42% opposed.
Voters put off by blanket ad campaigns
The negative voter sentiment marks a devastating setback for the sports betting propositions, which have spent more on TV ads than any other bill on the November ballot.
A particularly telling result of yesterday's poll was that Californians were apparently put off by the statewide ad campaigns. Most of the spots were essentially attack ads questioning the bona fides of both the sportsbooks backing Prop 27 and the 51 native tribes supporting Prop 26.
Voters who reported seeing the dueling attack ads about Props 26 and 27 were far more inclined to reject both bills than those who avoided seeing any of the TV spots.
"I think it’s the negative advertisements that have kind of been turning voters away," said UC-Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies (IGS) poll director Mark DiCamillo. "People who haven’t seen the ads are about evenly divided, but people who’ve seen a lot of ads are against it. So, the advertising is not helping."
DiCamillo's reasoning was supported by IGS Co-Director Eric Schickler.
"These results suggest that the sports wagering initiatives are foundering in the face of the opposition advertising campaigns," said Schickler. "The lack of support among key demographic groups makes passage of each an uphill climb, at best."
The poll reported that nearly all demographic subgroups — Democrats, Republicans, men, women, and all races — oppose Proposition 27. The only voter segment to back the bill was that of under-30 likely voters, who favored the sportsbook-backed legislation by 44% to 33%.
California the first state to shoot down legalized sports betting?
The sportsbooks have scaled back their statewide TV spots in October, opting for more cost-efficient social media advertising. This course correction came coincidentally in the wake of the PPIC poll results that first suggested the impending doom for the operators' bill.
Barring any unprecedented last-minute reversal of the number of likely voters against both Prop 26 and 27, California will become the first state to see its voters turn down the chance to legalize sports betting.
In every other instance where state residents were asked to vote on a bill authorizing some form of sports betting, all six — New Jersey, Colorado, Arkansas, Maryland, South Dakota, and Nebraska — approved such legislation.
California voters had unfavorable view of sportsbooks
One of the most significant results of the poll is that 53% of likely voters had a favorable view of state tribes, compared to just 14% of respondents that had a favorable impression of the sportsbooks — with 48% expressing disapproval of the books.
This negative result is likely a product of both voter antipathy towards out-of-state interests stripping native tribes of their traditional control over state gaming, as well as suspicions regarding the deceptive wording chosen by the operators for Prop 27.
The operators made a questionable decision to curry voter sympathy by labeling their bill "California Solutions to Homelessness and Mental Health Support Act." This wording was seen as an attempt to deflect attention from the underlying intent of the bill — to legalize online sports wagering.
The decision rankled many members in the No camp. Kendra Lewis, Executive Director of the Sacramento Housing Alliance, spoke scathingly of operators' motives in support of the No on 27 campaign.
"Prop 27 is a fundamentally flawed measure that will make the homeless crisis worse in California," said Lewis. "The fact that Prop 27’s backers are using this very real humanitarian crisis to sell their deceptive online gambling measure is shameful."