For Better Or Worse, Gaming's Politicization Grows As U.S. Elections Approach

September 30, 2022
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Legendary California Assembly Speaker Jesse “Big Daddy” Unruh coined the phrase, “Money is the mother’s milk of politics,” and the gambling industry is increasingly being perceived as a cash cow in elections.

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Legendary California Assembly Speaker Jesse “Big Daddy” Unruh coined the phrase, “Money is the mother’s milk of politics,” and the gambling industry is increasingly being perceived as a cash cow in elections.

Not only are the gaming industry’s financial contributions coveted before elections but revenue from gaming expansion produced after elections can help prevent a politician’s worst nightmare — tax hikes.

Perhaps the most salient example this year of gambling’s high-profile role in politics is the governor’s race in Georgia.

Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams is all in for legalizing casinos and online sports betting.

“To make sure we have a permanent revenue source, I will support legislation enabling online sports gaming and a constitutional amendment to allow casinos in Georgia,” Abrams said on August 11 on Twitter.

Casino expansion would entail the authorization of somewhere between one and three casino licenses across the state, to be determined by independent studies, according to Abrams’ campaign website.

In September, Abrams escalated her advocacy for gambling by running 15- and 30-second ads synchronized with the opening of the college football season.

The ads claim Abrams will use sports-betting revenue to invest in education for young people and criticized Republican Governor Brian Kemp for allegedly forcing Georgians to travel out of state to bet, “taking the tax dollars with them.”

Kemp spokesman Tate Mitchell told NBC News the governor is neutral on sports betting and “would work alongside legislative leadership to determine the best path forward.”

Kemp, who defeated Abrams in 2018 by 50.2 to 48.8 percent, is leading her this year 50.8 percent to 44.6 percent, according to the polling firm 538.

It is important to note that both Burt Jones, the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, and his Democratic opponent, Charles Bailey, support the legalization of sports betting.

Although Georgia is perhaps the most prominent governor’s race of 2022 where gambling has become an issue, 35 other governors will be elected on November 8 with those outcomes set to have an impact on the gaming industry in each state for at least the next four years.

But is a higher profile in politics and election races good or bad for business?

“I think the increased politicization is definitely an area of concern,” said John Holden, an assistant professor of business law at Oklahoma State University who writes about the gambling industry.

“But the stakes have risen recently with the rise of mobile gaming and sports betting, and I think both tribal and commercial operators are looking to do all they can to claim market share while it is still available,” Holden said.

California is a perfect example of the turf war between tribal gaming operators who want to maintain their exclusivity over casino gaming and commercial companies such as DraftKings and FanDuel who consider the Golden State to be essential to their future.

Both sides have their own sports-betting measures on the California ballot and it seems likely that both will be rejected by voters on November 8.

“I believe there is a fear that if either side does not do everything they can to protect their interests, they may be on the outside looking in,” Holden said.

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