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Gambling

Where Betting Failed

NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 13: Detail view of a DraftKings Sportsbook advertisement during the first period of the NHL game between the Nashville Predators and the Dallas Stars at Bridgestone Arena on October 13, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

The New York Times (please hold your applause until the end) took a fairly exhaustive look at the state of legalized sports gambling in the United States and found that (a) money buys politicians, (b) money buys college administrators, and (c) money buys lack of regulation—the triple crown of business in pre-apocalyptic America.

It does not, weirdly, explain why California, stereotypically the easiest prey for a good line of sky cake (h/t Patton Oswalt), so aggressively rejected two propositions that would allow sports betting. Proposition 26, which would allow casino betting, squirted away $121 million to get 32 percent of the vote, and more hilariously, Proposition 27, the online betting prop sponsored by DraftKings and FanDuel, spent $169 million to get 17 percent. The rout was so convincing that DraftKings and FanDuel yanked their Prop 27 ads well before election day because they know a seven-touchdown deficit when they see one.

Conversely, Prop 28, which asked for more music and arts funding, passed with stunning ease, an amazement when you consider that Big Mozart’s checkbook was nowhere in evidence during election season. It is almost as if—hold on to your hats, kids—people occasionally find bullshit repellent.

Not that gambling is in and of itself bullshit. Gambling has its own good angel/bad angel shoulder straddling, and Americans will always lean in toward entertainment rather than substance. As societies go, we are millions of miles wide and microns deep. Vote for the fun, stay for the bankruptcies.

But the Prop 26 and 27 routs speak to something else Americans are getting better at: figuring out the most overt lies and saying no to them. Oh, we’re still angry at anyone who isn’t us, and we would rather burn down our garage than let someone stand in its shade for half an hour on a hot day, but Donald Trump had his moment, he soaked his leg with his own essence, and now he’s a parody of his already self-parodic self. Fascism is still out there in the on-deck circle, but it won’t be his. Just his-esque.

Prop 27 promised a solution for California’s homeless morass through the millions generated by blown parlays, which was such a staggering oversell that even the No On 27 arguments, which lurched toward incredible exaggeration themselves, looked like Algebra 101. Prop 27 lost by one of the largest margins ever because it had been written as a boondoggle for DK/FD but sold itself instead as a cure for one of the country’s most difficult problems. It was the one-color Rubik’s Cube of nonsense—both easy to figure out and not worth bothering with.

There will be legalized gambling in California at some point—the market is too big to be left to Vegas and Reno, and nothing gets the blood rushing to the head quite like industrial scale bribery and influence peddling. The Times story reiterates for us how things get done in modern America: through ladles of grease applied to the palms of our influencer-whores. That’s how it was done 90 years ago, and by damn, it is how it is done today. The college component is particularly hilarious, and if Californians cared more about college sports, the gambling lobby would be there too.

Until then, Californians will place their bets in the old-fashioned ways: after a four-hour drive, or in the alternative, in a tavern meeting with your guy, because every phone is eternally tapped as a function of its basic service. If they need to get a bet down, they still can. They just can’t do it the way their technological superiors in Wyoming can. And all because there is actually a consumable limit to digestible lying.

Disclosure: I had Winnipeg minus the four tied to the 46.5 over in the Grey Cup, and Toronto won on a long punt return and a blocked field goal, 24-23. I voted No on 26 and 27. This right here is why.

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