California voters are turned off by Props. 26 and 27

California voters are turned off by Props. 26 and 27



You’d never know it from the incessant TV ads, but troubled horse racing would greatly benefit from a sports betting initiative on the November ballot.

In fact, Proposition 26 is seen by some as a savior of thoroughbred racing in California.

It would allow sports betting on professional games — football, etc.— at tribal casinos and four horse racetracks: Santa Anita, Del Mar, Los Alamitos and Golden Gate.

The goal is to attract more bettors to the tracks, where attendance has slumped in recent years.

“We’ve had trouble introducing the sport to young people,” says Gary Fenton, board chairman of Thoroughbred Owners of California. “Our demographic is old.”

Sports betting, which is illegal in California except for horse racing, would also bring more gamblers into tribal casinos. And casino gambling would be upgraded by permitting roulette and craps. They’re now forbidden in the state.

Bettors would need to be at least 21. Betting on high school or college games would still be illegal. There’d be a 10% state tax on sports-wagering profits at the tracks. The casinos have committed to paying the state 15%.

But private polling shows Proposition 26 running far behind and likely to lose along with another, vastly different sports betting initiative, Proposition 27.

Proposition 27 would legalize online sports betting. There’d be the same 10% tax and age restrictions as under 26.

A poll published last week by the Public Policy Institute of California showed Proposition 27 is supported by only 34% of likely voters and opposed by 54%. That means we can start writing its obit.

One big reason both measures are losing is that Proposition 26’s main backers, tribes, fear the approval of online sports betting more than they desire in-person sports wagering in their casinos. Their top priority is the defeat of Proposition 27.

So, they haven’t been promoting their own measure. No wonder it hasn’t generated broad support. Virtually all their effort and money has gone into pummeling 27.

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Tribes believe it’s a threat to their casinos because easy online betting would be allowed at home on a smartphone or laptop. No need to drive miles to a casino to gamble.

And it’s not just the online sports betting that tribes fear. It’s what they think would come next: online poker, blackjack and slots — regular casino games that are much more profitable than sports betting.

Tribes currently have a monopoly on casino gambling in California. Voters gave it to them. They feel that’s threatened by Proposition 27, sponsored mainly by out-of-state online interests, including FanDuel and DraftKings.

Although 15% of the tax — possibly up to $75 million — would go to a few tribes without casinos, the vast majority of tribes adamantly oppose 27. The larger casinos currently share nearly $150 million with tribes operating small casinos or none at all.

Voters simply aren’t buying what the Proposition 27 camp has been trying to sell.

Meanwhile, an obscene record $470 million already has been raised by both sides in this TV ad war.

Voters are fed up with the ad bombardment and confused, I figure.

Californians seem content with the gambling that exists. There are 66 tribal casinos, 84 card rooms, 29 fairs with racetracks and 23,000 stores selling lottery tickets.

You can also bet on horse races at home — the one sport California OKs for online wagering.

Racing’s efforts to bring more people to the tracks weren’t helped by image-damaging thoroughbred fatalities in 2019. More than 100 horses died at California tracks that year. Since then, the industry has reformed its horse medicating, and deaths have dropped dramatically.

But in this ballot contest, horse racing has been left in the lurch. It’s never mentioned.

And with Proposition 26 not even promoting itself, why should voters buy into it? Proposition 27 has always been a lousy bet. They’re both losers.

Next time, the tracks should pick a better horse.

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George Skelton is a Los Angeles Times columnist.



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