The November vote to legalize sports betting in California is shaping up as the most expensive ballot initiative battle in state history.

With three months to go, the two sides fighting over competing sports betting plans have raised about $350 million and are spending much of it on television advertising.

The Los Angeles Times this week dubbed this a “stunning sum of money,” which likely will climb to $500 million by the Nov. 8 election.

The previous high was $224 million by the ride-share companies Uber and Lyft on a 2020 ballot initiative regarding the state labor law, the newspaper reported.

What’s At Stake

On one side in the sports betting fight are those who want to legalize in-person betting at sportsbooks in 66 tribal casinos and four horse tracks. This faction, which includes the state’s larger tribes, supports Proposition 26. Under this plan, mobile apps would remain illegal. 

On the other side are those supporting Proposition 27. This measure would legalize mobile apps across the state for sports betting. It is backed by national online bookmakers such as BetMGM, FanDuel and DraftKings. 

With 40 million residents, California is the nation’s largest state by population size.

Right now, the most populous state with legal sports betting is New York, with about 19.3 million people, only about half of California’s size. 

Since Jan. 8, nine online sportsbooks in New York  have accepted $9.03 billion in bets, with $328.9 million in tax revenue going to the state. This doesn’t include bets placed at sportsbooks inside New York’s commercial casinos.

The New York numbers indicate why the battle in California is becoming what the Los Angeles Times calls “more intense” than any election to date.

Public Support

In February, a survey by the U.C. Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies showed that 45% of those polled were initially inclined to vote in favor of sports betting, with 33% inclined to vote “no.” A “relatively large” 22% of voters were undecided, according to the institute.

The survey did not indicate whether voters favor mobile betting apps or prefer in-person sports betting with apps remaining illegal. The effort to reach these voters is spurring record spending.

The total raised so far includes $150 million from online bookmakers and $92 million from tribes that own casinos, the newspaper reported. Another $66 million has come from other tribes that oppose the mobile app plan, Proposition 27. In addition, the state’s cardrooms, which are against Proposition 26, have contributed $41 million.

When casting a ballot, Californians are allowed to vote “yes” on both sports betting questions or “no” on both. Voters also can vote “yes” on one and “no” on the other.

On Election Day, if the public approves both ballot questions, the one with the most “yes” votes would win, unless the two are determined by a court not to be in conflict with each other. In that case, both would take effect.

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