The leader of the organization representing California horse owners said the group was “disappointed but not surprised” to see voters reject a ballot measure allowing racetracks in the state to host sportsbooks.
Gary Fenton, chairman of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, issued the statement on Thursday afternoon, two days after the general election that included Proposition 26. That constitutional amendment, proposed by tribal gaming nations, sought to expand gaming at their casinos. It also included a sports betting measure allowing in-person wagering at tribal casinos and the four state-licensed tracks – Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, Golden Gate Fields, Los Alamitos Race Course, and Santa Anita Park.
However, while California tribes raised more than $237 million in this election cycle, they focused nearly all their efforts on defeating Proposition 27, an amendment proposed by national sports betting operators that would have legalized online wagering statewide.
Both Props Soundly Defeated
Vote counts were not complete by Friday afternoon. California mails ballots to residents and as long as they’re postmarked on Election Day, they’ll be counted as long as they arrive to county election officials within a week after the election. However, the results to date show both sports betting measures were en route to losing by very substantial margins.
According to results posted by The New York Times, 70.1% of voters have cast “No” votes on the measure. That’s out of nearly 6.1 million ballots counted, or 60% of the expected vote.
But voters are even more opposed to Prop 27. With 61% of the vote – nearly 6.2 million ballots – counted, No leads Yes by a 5-to-1 margin. According to the Times results, only one of California’s 58 counties did Prop 27 have more than 20% support. That’s Imperial County, where voters there have rejected it 77-23, with 48% of the vote counted.
Horsemen ‘Highly Motivated’
In his statement, Fenton expressed hope that a solution could be found within the next couple of years.
We are disappointed but not surprised that Prop 26 did not pass and will do our part to find a positive outcome that can channel sports gaming demand responsibly to return maximum benefit to the State as well as provide a top-quality customer experience at our well-established and regulated racetracks in California in the next election cycle in 2024,” he said. “The California racing industry remains highly motivated to pursue this initiative, working collaboratively with key partners, to join the list of 35 states that currently offer legal sports wagering.”
California’s racing community wanted sportsbooks at tracks because horsemen saw it as a much-needed new revenue stream. In many states, horse racing purses are supplemented by other forms of gaming. That is not the case in California.
Tribes Say They’re in Control
But given the current voting totals, a sports betting measure on the 2024 California ballot may not pass. And tribal leaders, who likely hold all or most of the cards, have made it clear where they stand.
In an Election Night statement released by “Californians for Tribal Sovereignty and Safe Gaming,” the tribal-backed anti-Prop 27 group, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians Chief Intergovernmental Affairs Officer Dan Little said voters made it clear that tribal nations – not out-of-state corporations – have the exclusive right to operate casino gaming.
“Those corporations should be aware that California Tribes will always protect their people and their sovereignty, as well as work with the people of California to improve our collective well-being, now and into the future.”
Pechanga Band of Indians Chairman Mark Macarro made similar comments in a statement provided by the Coalition for Safe, Responsible Gaming, a tribal-backed committee that supported Prop 26 and opposed Prop 27.
“It’s clear voters don’t want a massive expansion of online sports betting, and they trust Indian tribes when it comes to responsible gaming,” Macarro said. “As tribes, we will analyze these results and collectively have discussions about what the future of sports wagering might look like in California.”
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