Californians Rooted for the 49ers this Super Bowl, but Couldn’t Gamble on Them

Eden Esemuede

Super Bowl LVIII took place on Sunday, February 11, 2024. Fans from all over visited Vegas for incredible football and record-setting gambling.[1] However, despite originating one of the contending teams, California fans watching from home were not be able to participate in the gambling action. This is because California is one of the few states that still prohibits sports betting.[2]

Just over a year ago, California voters chose not to legalize sports betting. Proposition 26 would have allowed in-person roulette, dice games, and sports wagering on tribal lands.[3] Relatedly, Proposition 27 would have allowed online and mobile sports wagering outside of tribal lands.[4] Both propositions would have expanded legal gambling in the state, alongside the already existing legal casino gambling. Together, both would ask voters to decide first, whether sports betting should be legalized, and second, who should control it. The deciding factors for both questions have roots in history and public policy.

In 1987, the Supreme Court ruled that tribes could regulate gaming operations independently of state regulations.[5] Congress followed the court’s decision with a regulatory act establishing different classes of gambling, with increased state regulation depending on the classification. As a result, tribes could make money on gambling operations and funnel money back into their communities.[6]

Fast forward to 2022, when proponents of the California proposition argued that passage would better communities and increase regulatory standards, creating a similar impact to the court’s 1987 decision. Specifically, supporters proposed that Proposition 27 would create a new state trust with part of the money earned from gambling. It would use the rest toward the State Homeless Housing, Assistance, and Prevention Program (HAAPP). It would also create a new regulatory unit for online sports betting to better enforce legal betting. Proposition 26 would prioritize meeting the required education funding minimums. Notably, it would also have created a new action for enforcement against illegal betting.

The concerns around over-enforcement of illegal betting are especially high in light of the proliferation of VPNs on the consumer market. VPNs, or Virtual Private Networks, are often advertised as tools to promote privacy and evade regional barriers on streaming content. However, they have also grown in popularity as a method of easy access for gamblers who wish to escape state-specific gambling requirements.[7]       

Opponents to the propositions cited concerns of public policy.[8] They argued that the act would increase gambling addictions, adding to the very causes of homelessness that the act sought to solve. Also, by making every cellphone a legal gambling device, people under the legal gambling age would gain more access to gambling as well. Tribes would face undue harassment and scrutiny thanks to the provisions making it easier to sue. Finally, illegal sports betting would not stop even if the government opened pathways for legal betting. If California legalizes sports gambling, the promised community-boosting revenue would not be as high as predictions suggest, and entry costs for legal participation in the gaming industry may increase. Commentators compared this aspect of the issue to the arguments for and against legalizing marijuana in California.[9]

In the end, neither proposition passed. Proposition 26 lost with a 66% “No” vote,[10] and Proposition 27 lost with an 82% majority voting “No.”[11] Ultimately, California voters chose to keep sports betting illegal, so they had to keep their wallets closed as they watched the 49er’s heartbreaking defeat.


[1] AP Super Bowl Betting Frenzy! Record 68 Million American Adults Set To Wager $23.1 billion, Associated Press (Feb. 8, 2024), [] [].

[2] Chris Bengel & Shanna McCarriston, U.S. Sports Betting: Here Is Where All 50 States Currently Stand on Legalizing Online Sports Betting Sites, CBS Sports (Nov. 17, 2023), [] []

[3] California Legislative Analyst’s Office, Proposition 26:

Allows In-Person Roulette, Dice Games, Sports Wagering on Tribal Lands (2022), [] [].

[4] California Legislative Analyst’s Office, Proposition 27: Allows Online and Mobile Sports Wagering Outside Tribal Lands (2022), [] [].

[5] California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, 480 U.S. 202 (1987)

[6] Morgan Rynor, The History of Gambling in California: Props 26 and 27 Explained, CBS (Oct. 13, 2022), [] [].

[7] Inga Valiaugaitė, Best VPNs for Online Gambling in 2024, CyberNews (Jan. 18, 2024), [No permalink] [].

[8] Endorsement: No on Propositions 26 and 27. Legalizing sports betting stacks the odds against Californians, L.A. Times (Sept. 11, 2022), [] [].

[9] Id.

[10] California Proposition 26, Legalize Sports Betting on American Indian Lands Initiative, Ballotpedia,_Legalize_Sports_Betting_on_American_Indian_Lands_Initiative_(2022) [] [,_Legalize_Sports_Betting_on_American_Indian_Lands_Initiative_%282022%29] (last visited Feb. 11, 2024).

[11] California Proposition 27 Election Results: Online Sports Betting Regulation, N.Y. Times (Dec. 13, 2022), [] [].