Published: March 29, 2022

What's up with the 'protect tribal gaming' TV ad that's everywhere in California?

If you live in California and have been watching sports or news programming on cable television in recent weeks, you've probably seen — on multiple occasions — an ad decrying "out-of-state corporations coming to California" backing an online sports betting initiative.

It's the opening salvo in what promises to be a bitter battle over who controls sports betting in California, as a slate of competing ballot measures are likely to reach voters in November. Here's a quick guide to that advertisement, the context behind it and what's coming next.

After the United States Supreme Court cleared the way for individual states to legalize sports gambling in 2018, many states moved quickly to allow residents to place wagers on sporting events. In California, betting on sports games is still illegal — though other forms of gambling are permitted. Specifically, the state allows residents to play card games at licensed cardrooms, wager on horse races, buy state lottery tickets and gamble at tribal casinos.

Now, there are four (four!) major ballot measures to legalize sports gambling that are under consideration. Let's start with the one supported by the group behind the television ad, as that is the only measure that has already qualified for the ballot. Under that proposal, wagering on sports gambling would only be permitted in-person at tribal casinos and at horse racing tracks. Online betting — the most convenient form of gambling — would not be legalized under that proposal.

A second proposal, put forward by betting giants DraftKings and FanDuel — the "out-of-state of corporations" mentioned in the ad — would legalize online sports betting. Californians for Tribal Sovereignty and Safe Gaming, the group behind the ad, has pledged to spend $100 million to defeat this alternate proposal, as it would divert business away from tribal casinos. DraftKings' CEO signaled that he expects this second proposal to qualify for the November ballot.

Now here's where it gets really confusing: Possibly sensing that the state's voters might be more inclined to favor a proposal that legalizes online betting over one that does not, some Native American tribes have pledged their support for a third proposal that would allow tribes to control the online sports betting market. The tribes say their support for this measure does not conflict with the first measure, though it is unclear whether this third proposal will be able to gather the requisite signatures to reach the ballot.

There is also a fourth proposal backed by the state's cardrooms that would allow online sports betting. The cardrooms oppose the first proposal back by the tribes, but, like the third proposal, it is unclear whether this fourth proposal will actually reach the ballot.

While things are certainly convoluted now, expect more clarity once we know how many of the four proposals actually reach the ballot (as well as how many lawsuits will be launched against each). In the interim, one thing is very apparent: The California airwaves are going to bombarded with ads for — and against — the first two proposals in the coming months.

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