California Sports Betting Efforts Are Now Most Expensive Ballot-Initiative Campaign in United States History

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Sep 22, 2022 08:00 PM
California Sports Betting Efforts Are Now Most Expensive Ballot-Initiative Campaign in United States History

Anyone who has followed the battle for legal sports betting in California understands it long ago mutated into an expensive endeavor. Two initiatives are slated to appear on the November 2022 ballot, with each promising different forms of legalization if they pass. The end result has been a war of finances. Both sides are trying to lobby government officials on their behalf and against the other party. And yet, even knowing that, it's tough to have a specific hold on how much the fight for California sports betting has cost to bankroll.

Until now.

According to The Guardian, there has now been "$400 million and counting" spent on the dueling gambling proposals, a competition that is "pitting wealthy Indigenous tribes against online gambling companies over a potentially multibillion-dollar marketplace." 

If $400 million sounds like a lot of money, well, that's because it is a lot of money. Really, it's an unfathomable amount of money. In fact, by surpassing this $400 million marker, the various attempts to legalize sports betting in California have combined to form the most expensive ballot-initiative in the history of the United States.

To be clear, this isn't just relative to other battles for legal online sports betting in the USA. It encompasses every political ballot-initiative throughout history. And while this amount of money may seem obscene, verging on senseless, the total is indicative of just how lucrative and impactful California sports betting stands to be if and when it becomes legalized.

Where Is All This Money Going in the Campaign(s) for California Sports Betting?

Right off the bat, we should all be inclined to ask: What the heck are the federally recognized tribes and billion-dollar corporations spending so much money on?

Anyone hoping for a sexy answer is bound to be disappointed. Two expenditures primarily make up the California sports betting tab. First, there's the cost of lobbying. Tribes and corporations spend vast amounts of cash on what amounts to influence. They make "donations" to political campaigns—and specific politicians—in exchange for those parties supporting and pushing their agenda at the highest levels of government. This type of power doesn't come cheap, but if you have the pockets, it has proven to be effective.

Look no further than the National Rifle Association for proof of concept. The NRA has been able to ward off stricter gun laws throughout the United States by simply aligning themselves financially with politicians in power who stamp out legislation that would damage the business and economics of firearms. Similar logic applies in the race to push California sports betting. Supporters of each proposal—one that legalizes sports betting only on-site at specific casinos, and another that legalizes all forms of sports betting, including online wagering—shell out cash to have their voice heard and agenda echoed in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The other primary expense for those financing both California sports betting campaigns is the cost of advertising. As The Associated Press recently wrote: "Californians have been bombarded with advertising for months, much of it making promises far beyond a plump payoff from a game wager. Some ads coming from the consortium of gambling companies barely mention online betting. Instead, the ads tease a cornucopia of benefits from new revenues – helping unhoused people, aiding people with mental illness and providing financial security for poorer nations that haven’t seen a windfall from casino gambling. Further clouding the issue: there are two sports betting questions on the ballot."

California sports betting advertisements also include counter-messaging. This is the practice of debunking propaganda from the other side. For example, the online sports betting initiative, known as Proposition 27, has staked its merits on the tax-revenue contributions that will go towards combating homelessness. But tribes and corporations who support more limited forms of sports betting, which is championed under Proposition 26, have spent money on messaging that points out Prop 27 doesn't actually guarantee a set amount of money for the fight against homelessness.

The Fight for California Sports Betting Will Only Get More Expensive

Incredibly, the expenses tied to the California sports betting campaigns are nowhere near finalized. At this writing, there is still more than a month to go before the November 2022 ballot. Those bankrolling Prop 26 and Prop 27 will continue spending right up until the votes are tallied. And even after that, the losing side is bound to invest more money in contesting the results.

Mind-boggling still, all of this spending doesn't assure either side of anything. Many expect one of the California sports betting initiatives in 2022 to break through, but neither is actually guaranteed. Plenty of people, from both the Republican and Democratic parties, remain against the idea of legal sports betting altogether. Financiers of Prop 26 and Prop 27 could technically be spreading out huge amounts of cash for absolutely nothing.

Through everything, California residents remain in the dark about what happens next. Will they be able to legally bet on sports over the next year or so? We can't say for sure. But if neither measure passes, they can at least find solace in alternatives. Many of the sites from our reviews of the top online sportsbooks will accept wagers from Californians right now. And failing that, residents can always cross state lines to place wagers where sports betting is actually legal.

In the meantime, one thing is for certain: The California sports betting battle is the most expensive the United States has ever seen—for better or worse.

Take a look at this list of the top online sportsbooks so you can decide which one works for all of your sports betting needs:

Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan Favale leverages over 12 years of sports journalism expertise in his role as New York staff writer. He provides in-depth analysis across the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, tennis, NASCAR, college basketball, and sports betting. Dan co-hosts the popular Hardwood Knocks NBA podc...

Online Sports Betting may receive compensation if you sign up through our links. Rest assured, we avoid biases and provide honest opinions on sportsbooks. Read more here.