Sunday’s Super Bowl, pitting the San Francisco 49ers against the Kansas City Chiefs and staged in Las Vegas’ new stadium, has ironic twists.
“The 2024 Super Bowl in Las Vegas symbolizes the ultimate convergence of the NFL’s showcase event and the beacon of American betting,” Rotowire, a website devoted to sports gambling, recently noted. “This historic pairing is set to amplify the excitement surrounding the game, potentially making it one of the most bet-on events in history.”
After the U.S. Supreme Court voided the anti-gambling Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which had been passed in 1992 with the full support of sports leagues, 38 states legalized sports wagering and the leagues signed sponsorship deals with major gambling corporations.
However, California and Missouri, the home states of Sunday’s contenders for the National Football League title, are two of the holdouts, so their residents cannot legally place bets on their favorite teams.
After the federal anti-gambling act was declared unconstitutional, it was immediately apparent that promoters of sports wagers would target California, the nation’s most populous state and home to 14 major league sports teams. With billions of dollars potentially at stake, the gambling industry’s major players pressured the Legislature to act but essentially battled to a draw over which faction would have the upper hand.
As with many other legislative stalemates, the contenders shifted their conflict to the initiative process and eventually two measures were placed before voters in 2022.
Proposition 26, sponsored by a dozen Native American tribes that already owned casinos, would have allowed sports bets at their casinos and at four horse racing tracks – the inclusion of the latter aimed at neutralizing a potential opponent.
Proposition 27, backed by a coalition of gaming companies, such as FanDuel and DraftKings, would have allowed online sports wagers. Three small tribes that did not have casinos also supported it, since they could have derived some financial benefits.
Upwards of a half-billion dollars were spent on campaigns for and against the two measures but both went down in flames. It was, however, a strategic win for the tribes, whose virtual monopoly on legal gambling in California was protected.
“Everybody knows this: You don’t come and try to screw the tribes,” Victor Rocha, conference chairperson for the national Indian Gaming Association, later told CalMatters.
Given the outcome, there was little appetite for another legislative effort or another ballot battle. However, last year a couple of businessmen, gambling industry veteran Kasey Thompson and blockchain executive Reeve Collins, submitted two potential sports wagering initiatives to the state Department of Justice and began trolling for support from California tribes.
They would have allowed both online and in-person wagering controlled by tribal casinos, but the California Nations Indian Gaming Association quickly denounced the effort and the two initiatives disappeared as quickly as they had surfaced.
Stripped of politics and self-interest, is there really any reason for California to deny its residents opportunities to legally bet on sports? After all, the state already allows Californians to legally kill their brain cells with alcohol and marijuana, pollute their lungs with cigarette smoke and gamble with cards and slot machines, on horse races and in the state’s own lottery.
Sports wagering is no worse than these other vices. While a purist might decry betting on athletic competitions, it’s already legal in many other states and the sports leagues themselves have embraced it.
Given all of that, it’s somewhat hypocritical for California to continue its prohibition.
CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.