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Californians give modest support to legalized sports betting

At last, an issue that doesn't spark partisan animosity.

(CN) — The legalization of sports betting has modest support among likely California voters, according to a new poll released Wednesday. 

Approximately 45% of likely voters say they are inclined to support the legalization of sports gambling in California, against about 33% of likely voters who are inclined to vote against legalization. A large percentage (22%) say they remain undecided on the issue. 

California voters will be asked to weigh in on legalization this November, when a ballot measure aiming to alter the California Constitution and allow for sports betting will appear before voters. 

The UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies released the poll on Wednesday that showed modest support but also revealed some surprising trends — including the nonpartisan nature of the issue.

“It is rare these days for a political issue to not be seen as partisan,” said Eric Schikler, co-director of the institute. “But legalizing sports betting in California appears to be one of them, at least for the time being.” 

About 44% of Democrats said they are inclined to vote yes, with about 41% of Republicans saying the same. Those not registered with either party said they would support legalization to the tune of 47%. 

Similarly, the three blocs of voters polled in the mid-30s against supporting the measure, with Republicans the most likely to vote no (37%). 

Legalized sports betting appears to bolster the horseshoe theory of political ideology that holds that far-left and far-right positions are not polar opposites but actually have much in common. Strongly conservative and strongly liberal ideologues were the least likely to support the measure, with those who rated themselves as strongly conservative more likely to vote no (44%) than yes (35%). Strongly liberal respondents would vote yes but only barely, with 41% in favor and 36% against. 

Moderate ideologues or those in the center of the political spectrum were much more likely to support the ballot initiative (46%) than to oppose it (21%). 

Most issues in the United States are filtered through the strong polarization of politics that continues to divide Americans into ideological silos, but the legalization of sports gambling in California appears initially immune to such filtration. 

Those who pay a lot of attention to professional sports are much more likely to support legalization (63% yes to 26% no) than those who pay absolutely no attention to sports (33% yes to 36% no). 

The poll further found that men are much more interested in legalization than women, with 55% of men in favor as opposed to only 35% of women in favor. More women said they were inclined to vote no (37%) than yes. 

Sports gambling was restricted to Nevada for much of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century until 2018, when the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled the state could host legalized gambling. 

The ruling opened up the floodgates and currently, 31 of 50 states have legalized gambling in some form, whether mobile gambling or in-person. Some states have outlawed specific provisions of sports betting — for instance, New York forbids gambling on in-state college teams. 

California is one of 18 states that does not allow sports gambling and is without pending legislation to legalize it. As reflected in the IGS poll, legalization does not hew along political lines: like the Golden State, deep-red Texas is one of the 18 states to decline legalization to date. 

Sports leagues once lobbied heavily against legalized betting on their events, with worries over the integrity of the game still lingering from several famed historical examples, including the 1919 conspiracy to fix the World Series involving several players from the Chicago White Sox. 

But recently, sports leagues have begun to embrace modern sports gambling, most of which can be done over a smartphone, realizing that gambling drives more interest to their product. Likewise, states formerly wary of sports betting have realized their denizens can access offshore betting accounts via the internet and have decided their prohibitive stances do not stop gambling — they only preventing state coffers from benefitting. 

In California, part of the reason legalization has stalled is competing interests such as tribal groups that run casinos have come out against the measure and hampered legalization efforts. But come November, California voters will ultimately decide whether sports betting will occur in the state and the early indications from Wednesday’s poll show modest support for the measure. 

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