Like many Left Coast political observers, West Hollywood resident Rob Pyers was stunned by the epic majority that defeated Proposition 27 in California last week.
He did a little research and soon found that this particular sports betting initiative had done as well at the ballot box as the attempt a century earlier to relieve landlords of the burden of providing non-combustible housing and an 82 – year attempt to open up some of California’s most beautiful landscapes for oil and gas drilling.
Pyers, a self-proclaimed “political junkie” who is the research director of a non-partisan government political database, built a database of initiatives using a combination of UC Hastings nominations and the Ballotpedia initiative archive. He filled in all the blanks by going through the last 100 years of voice explanations, and then, when Proposition 27 went down hard, produced this little nugget:
California’s Prop 27 is about 84% No, which would rank it the sixth worst hit for an electoral issue in over a century of initiatives. pic.twitter.com/24audrLCTi
— Rob Pyers (@rpyers) November 9, 2022
As of Wednesday morning, Proposition 27 had the support of just 17% of voters.
To put that in perspective, according to Ballotpedia, California voters have been asked to decide over 1,291 nominations since 1910. According to Pyers’ tweet, Proposition 27 was 0.4 in terms of performance. percentile. A rather modest company indeed.
The scale of the defeat is epic
The proposal would have enabled nationwide mobile betting with digital platforms tied to tribal casinos. A second betting initiative, Proposition 26, would have allowed only retail betting and the addition of tribal casinos for roulette and craps. It also included a section that would have changed the way card rooms could be sued.
Proposition 26 was also defeated as it received support from just 32% of voters as of Wednesday morning.
Despite the loss, many in the tribal gaming community viewed Election Day as a good result, as Proposition 27, which was backed by mobile sports betting industry leaders BetMGM, DraftKings, FanDuel, BetFanatic, Bally Bet, Barstool Sportsbook and WynnBET, all went under .
Though Proposition 27 has long been declared dead by pollsters and even their supporters, State Electoral Officers are still counting ballots. Initially, Proposition 27 had support from just 16% of voters, but has since grown, overtaking three of the most unpopular propositions in California history: one about the Circuit Court of Appeals in 1937, one about taxation in 1938, and one about the closure of Shops on Sundays in 1930.
As depressing as these Depression-era election losses were, the failure of Proposition 27 was equally painful for its supporters and baffling for political insiders.
“This could rank as one of the biggest defeats in a sponsored ballot initiative in the whole country,” said Brendan Bussmann, director of Las Vegas-based gaming consultancy B Global. “Last spring, 1.6 million people signed a petition to stand for election. While this does not always result in positive votes, the final vote count versus signature count is significant.”
As of Tuesday morning, the proposal had garnered 1.4 million yes votes, two million fewer than the number of signatures its supporters collected to get it on the ballot. Of course, that’s not just because Californians haven’t been ready to legalize sports betting yet. In total, supporters and opponents of the two proposals spent $400 million on the campaigns, making them the most expensive proposals in US history. Of that $400 million, two separate “No to 27 groups” spent about $220 million to end the proposal, while a coalition of operators spent just over $158 million to get it through. Several other groups spent tens of millions to support or oppose Proposition 26.
Five suggestions that performed even worse
The defeat of Proposition 27 will prove historic in the long run, no matter where it lands on Pyers’ list. How bad was it? For comparison, here are five propositions in California history that voters tended to reject:
Proposal 101, 1988: Insurance companies, fearing reform as consumer groups demanded lower premiums, created this Trojan horse as an alternative to Proposition 103. The latter would have required government approval before insurance companies could introduce casualty and property insurance rates. In addition, existing interest rates were reduced by 20%. The companies countered with this significantly more balance sheet-friendly proposal. The voters didn’t have it. A whopping 86.7% of them decided “no”. Meanwhile, Proposition 103 narrowly passed with 51.3% of the vote.
Proposal 24, 1914: Apparently, even 108 years ago, Californians weren’t exactly thrilled with their leaders, with 85 percent of them rejecting a motion to increase the pay of members and employees of the state legislature and senate. How much did they search? A whopping $600 a day…for all 120 lawmakers and their staff. Apparently voters didn’t think what they were doing at the start of WWI was worth the less than $5 a day they would be making on average. Incidentally, $5 in 1914 would have the purchasing power of about $150 today.
Proposal 13, 1940: If you’ve had a nice hike or stroll along the beach in California recently, you might have the voters of 1940 to thank for all that peace and quiet. They strongly opposed a measure that would have leased or sold state parks with oil or gas reserves. For more than 80 years, Californians have recognized the value of their state’s natural beauty and have taken steps to protect it.
Proposal 24, 1938: Equally in vain, 85% of voters said “no thanks” to a proposal that would have allowed 11 parcels of government-owned land in Huntington Beach to be bid for oil drilling. It also established requirements for royalties based on the amount of oil drilled and required a minimum of five wells per package. Given the economic situation during the Great Depression, the prospect of protecting this beautiful stretch of coast is impressive.
Proposal 5, 1922: After California enacted laws requiring owners of flammable wooden homes and hotels to build fireproof roofs and otherwise help their residents avoid painful deaths, landlords were quick to win over California voters. This proposal would have repealed those acts. Opposition groups wrote: “Restricted space prohibits even a brief reference to all the bad qualities of [the referendum].” Voters agreed and shot down the proposal with 84.45% of the vote.
Tribes could gain the upper hand
The defeat of Proposition 27 now paves the way for further attempts to bring sports betting to Californians and, crucially, the tribes remain viable players in this drama. As 27 met its ignominious defeat, many in the tribal community celebrated its downfall, some even expressing it in historical terms.
“You have to understand that we will protect our homes and we will take care of our people,” said Greg Sarris, chief of the Federated Tribes of Graton Rancheria. “Think of the trail of tears and how Indians were sent into the middle of nowhere and how things have changed. They want to take our golden egg and raise and hatch it. But we will nurture and hatch it.”
Bussmann called the two competing initiatives a “buzz saw” for California voters confused by the back-and-forth in the days and weeks leading up to Election Day. Proposition 27 supporters spent more than $150 million to get it through, but the tribes spent millions defeating it while furthering their own initiative.
Sports betting is certainly not dead in the largest state.
“I think California is too big a place for people to leave completely, but the tribes have shown they have the power and the money to get the results they want,” political adviser John Pappas said briefly then at an IGB webinar Wahl. “I don’t think we can look at Michigan or Connecticut [as a framework to follow]. We need a unique solution for California.”