The campaign backing Proposition 27, the bill to legalize online sports betting in California, is slashing its ad buy in major TV markets across the Golden State.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that, according to state ad trackers, the "Yes on 27" campaign has no statewide TV spots slated to run in October, where it would normally have been expected to place ads during NFL games and the MLB playoffs (MLB is one of the most notable supporters of Prop 27).
The only TV ads currently booked for next month are those scheduled for broadcast in the Los Angeles market with only minimal cable buys in the Bay Area, Sacramento, San Diego, and Fresno.
This tactical retreat comes in the wake of last week's Public Policy Institute of California poll results, which revealed that the majority of likely voters for the upcoming November 8 ballot were going to reject Prop 27.
A sharp pullback in TV spending in political races is usually a sign that a candidate is doomed to defeat. "Yes on 27's" decision to shift resources from costly blanket TV advertising to social media outlets is not an encouraging sign for the major sportsbooks backing the legislature, which had hoped to enter the lucrative California market.
Alternate explanation for ad pullback
Nathan Click, spokesperson and strategist for the Proposition 27 campaign, provided different reasoning for the pivot, despite the conspicuous timing of the switch in advertising strategy.
"Clearly, the saturated television market is not benefiting either side, so our campaign is putting those dollars toward additional direct communication with voters in order to pass Prop. 27," said Click in a statement.
He argued that Prop 27 has been the victim of "over $100 million dollars in misleading and false TV attacks — $45 million [of which was spent] before we even qualified for the ballot."
"It's telling [that] the same opponents funding these ads haven't spent a dime on commercials supporting their own sports betting proposal, Prop 26," added Click.
Vindication for No on 27 campaign
In response to Prop 27's ad spend course correction news, Kathy Fairbanks, spokesperson for the "No on 27" Coalition who represents 50+ native tribes seeking to maintain their stronghold over California's wagering industry, issued a statement that reflected both a sense of vindication and schadenfreude.
"Voters are flat-out rejecting the out-of-state gambling corporations and their $170 million campaign of deception," said Fairbanks. "The more voters hear, the more they reject it."
Her remarks came on top of a previous No on 27 press release that followed the release of last week's PPIC poll.
"This survey confirms what we’ve been seeing for months in our own polling. Despite raising more than $160 million for a deceptive advertising campaign, California voters are clearly not buying what the out-of-state online gambling corporations behind Prop 27 are selling," said Fairbanks. "Voters strongly oppose Prop 27 and its massive expansion of online sports gambling, and they do not believe Prop 27 is a ‘solution’ to anything."
This Tuesday, the No coalition revealed that an additional poll, conducted on behalf of the "Californians for Tribal Sovereignty and Safe Gaming," had Prop 27 suffering an even more devastating 58% to 24% defeat by likely voters (with a margin of error of 3.5%).
Prop 27 a victim of its own messaging
One of the key and possibly fatal marketing decisions by the sportsbooks was the attempt to gain voter sympathy for its online sports betting measure by labeling the bill the "California Solutions to Homelessness and Mental Health Support Act."
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."
In yesterday's statement issued by the "No on 27" committee, several paragraphs from a story in Wednesday's edition of the San Francisco Chronicle were targeted, with a focus on Prop 27's claim that the 10% state tax on gaming revenue would see millions of dollars funneled to homeless organizations.
"I don’t think there’s anybody in homeless services that actually thinks that we would realize a windfall from this, that we can instantly start building housing units and getting people off the street and getting them into mental health service," said Fran Butler-Cohen, CEO of Family Health Centers of San Diego, a foundation that serves 27,000 homeless people each year. "I don’t think anybody thinks that."
The story also quoted Paul Boden, executive director of homeless advocacy group Western Regional Advocacy Project, who casts severe doubt on the sportsbooks' humanitarian intentions.
"If these corporations wanted to be helping homeless people and mentally ill people, they could use their foundations, which they all frickin’ have," said Boden.
The "Yes on 27" campaign also failed to gain the support of state Democratic and Republican parties. Its bill was opposed by the California State Association of Counties (CSAC), representing all 58 counties in the state.
This allied the counties with other groups that are part of the broad-based "No on 27" coalition, which also includes the California League of Cities, top legislative leaders, major teachers’ unions, as well as the 50+ native tribes funding the "No" campaign.
"California’s counties are on the front lines of the homelessness and mental health crisis, providing safety-net programs and services for unhoused residents. We carefully reviewed Prop 27 and concluded it’s a bad deal for counties and for California," said Graham Knaus, Executive Director of the California State Association of Counties. "Make no mistake, Prop 27 is NOT a solution to homelessness."