CA Tribes Accused of False Attacks Against Sports Betting Measure

Five months before the election, the knives are out in the campaign over whether online sports betting will be legalized in California. The state’s gaming tribes have released ads attacking the operators’ measure that some critics like iDEA Growth partner John Pappas (l.), have called “fear mongering.”

CA Tribes Accused of False Attacks Against Sports Betting Measure

California gaming tribes who oppose a measure by out-of-state sports betting operators that would legalize online sportsbooks are being accused of “fear mongering” ads.

Seven online operators who want to operate in the Golden State have pointed to ads on social media posted by tribes who wish to retain their monopoly on the market.

In one ad, a voiceover intones “every cellphone, laptop, tablet, and even video game console into a gambling device, opening up online gambling to anyone, anywhere, anytime. That could lead to more addiction, financial ruin, and homelessness, while exposing millions of children to online gambling.”

The operators, who include BetMGM, DraftKings, and FanDuel, qualified for the November ballot the California Solutions to Homelessness and Mental Health Act. It would require operators to work with tribal casinos.

Nathan Click, their spokesman, told Sportshandle, “It’s not surprising to see negative ads in political campaigns, but we are not going to be deterred. Our measure is proving to be popular with California voters.”

Opposing the measure is the Coalition for Safe, Responsible Gaming, whose principals are the Pechanga Band of Indians, Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, and Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. Long before the operators’ initiative, they qualified a measure which would legalize retail sports betting only, and only for tribal casinos and racetracks.

Kathy Fairbanks, their spokeswoman, commented, “The way we approach a campaign like this is to look at it in all of its parts. What is it proposing to do? Is that going to be harmful or helpful to people in California?” She added, “In our case, our coalition thinks it is harmful. So how do you communicate that to voters?”

They decided on a hard-hitting campaign that forces viewers to consider what would happen if children become gambling addicts.

Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, says the tribes have a credibility problem.

“Whenever an industry vertical uses problem gaming to attack another segment or another operator or another state, they ought to make sure they have absolutely no responsible gaming issues themselves and make sure 100 percent their customers have treatment on demand,” he said. “The first priority is to make sure your own responsible gaming services and problem gaming jurisdictions are the best before criticizing someone else.”

Fairbanks counters that California’s tribes are committed to funding problem gambling programs through their tribal state gaming compacts. Their current proposal, she says, would earmark 15 percent of revenue to the California Department of Health for gambling addiction programs.

John Pappas, a gaming consultant with the industry group iDEA Growth, says the ads perpetuate myths. “I say myth, because there is really no evidence that legalizing online gaming, sports betting, or poker creates a worse environment for underage consumers than the black market,” he said. He adds, “It’s really fear mongering. It goes to the base concerns of most Americans who don’t want kids gambling.”

Critics of this approach say some tribes admit the tribal initiative is a first step. They plan to eventually seek to offer mobile sports betting through tribal casinos because it has proven to be the most lucrative form of sports betting.

Pappas argues that existing mobile sports betting operations in half of the U.S. states require consumers to provide a name, gender, mailing address, phone number and email address. They often require part of the account holder’s Social Security number. They also require they be funded by a credit or debit card, online bank transfer or wire transfer. All are difficult, if not impossible for a minor to provide.