Gaming industry insiders on Thursday’s iGaming Business virtual panel offered their expertise on the chances of a wide variety of states either legalizing sports betting this year or adding mobile sports betting to their offerings.
And as has been the case of late, the eyes of the panel were on Texas — traditionally a state very resistant to any form of gambling.
Stacie Stern, FanDuel‘s government affairs director, said she she previously has gotten “oh so close” to passage of daily fantasy sports legalization in the Lone Star State.
“I’m pretty optimistic,” Stern said. “I’ve seen a changing attitude on the ground among House and Senate members there, just with fantasy sports in general. And sports betting is in the same vein.”
Stern said other forces are in play that could help Texas move forward.
Sports betting a team game in TX
“The [professional sports] team owners certainly want to be engaged in this marketplace, and more than anything, the constituency certainly wants to be able to wager on sports legally.
“Texas is not a state set up to pass [any] legislation easily,” Stern added. “But I believe if we can create the right coalition of the right people, we can pass legislation in this session.”
Ayesha Khanna Molino, senior vice president for government affairs for MGM Resorts, called Texas “a critically important state” while echoing Stern’s optimism about a coalition forming — in part because the state’s pro sports franchises are on board.
Democratic Rep. Harold Dutton filed a sports betting bill last week, but the sports betting question would have to be approved by voters as an amendment to the state Constitution.
Corridor Consulting CEO John Pappas, who previously ran the Poker Players Alliance, said that the gambling culture in Texas is unusual.
“There’s a much better chance of mobile sports betting there than [approval of commercial] land-based casinos — that’s the reality in Texas,” Pappas said. “We tried to get poker rooms legalized and we were unsuccessful. Imagine that in the home for Texas hold’em, it’s not legal to play poker.”
New York, New York
Another of the “Big Four” states, New York, received some attention from the panel (though California or Florida did not).
New York has legal sports betting, but only in-person at tribal casinos or the four commercial casinos upstate.
“A few weeks ago, there was a lot of hope in that the governor [Andrew Cuomo] had embraced sports betting,” Pappas said. “But it seems as if the governor’s approach is a radical departure from what legislators are pitching right now.”
Cuomo’s push for the state lottery or a gaming commission to oversee either one or just a few operators — he has waffled several times — contrasts with state Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. and Assemblyman Gary Pretlow and their bills, each of which got out of committee this week. The bills would allow for up to 14 mobile betting “skins” in the state, creating a market more akin to that in neighboring New Jersey or Pennsylvania.
“How the governor’s plan works is not unknown, which might be a good thing,” Pappas said. “I’m not saying what he wants, exactly, maybe there is room to negotiate for a better law where they meet in the middle and create a competitive market.”
Brandt Iden, a former Michigan lawmaker who just became head of government affairs for Sportradar US, said that one aspect is clear: “The governor is focused on revenue.”
So Iden said that advocates will need to lay out for Cuomo how a competitive market can produce plenty of revenue, while giving consumers more choices.
Newcomers to the discussion
Some states have been on the industry’s radar ever since a May 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling opened the door for any state to offer Las Vegas-style sports betting.
But Arizona and Georgia? Those are relative newcomers.
Stern, who lives in Arizona, said, “This is really the year to get this done.”
A key factor is that state compacts with tribes are expiring this year and next, Stern said, making it a good time to negotiate sports betting into new deals.
“It’s a high priority of Governor [Doug] Ducey to get these pacts renegotiated,” Stern said. “And it sounds as if the tribes and the governor’s office conversations have gone really well and that they could be very close to an agreement. The tribes here are very progressive and modern in their thinking. This could move very quickly.”
As with Texas, Stern said that the backing of pro sports teams for betting in Georgia opens “a potential path this year.”
Khanna Molino said of Georgia: “We’ve been down there a long time, and we’ve seen this play out every year. But hope springs eternal.”
Predictions run the gamut
Asked for predictions of which states approve sports betting in 2021, the panelists each had their own set of ideas.
Responsible gambling advocate Brianne Doura-Schawohl, vice president of U.S. policy and strategic development for EPIC Risk Management, chose “Connecticut, Ohio, Massachusetts — and maybe Arizona, too.”
Iden said, “The safe bets are Connecticut and Massachusetts, with an outside chance of Georgia.”
Khanna Molino said that Maryland, since it already approved sports betting via voter referendum in November, “has a really good shot” to go live this year. She also mentioned Louisiana — where voters in most parishes have approved the betting — and said she is “hopeful for both Massachusetts and Ohio.”
“I’ve got to go with Arizona, Louisiana, Maryland, North Carolina, and Ohio,” Stern said. “I’m less certain about Connecticut.”
Betting in flux in Illinois
While Illinois already has sports betting, it also requires in-person registration — although that requirement has been waived repeatedly in this COVID-19 era — and does not allow for betting on Illinois university athletic programs.
Stern said that she is encouraged by a “shift in attitude” that she expects from Illinois Speaker Chris Welch, who recently replaced Michael Madigan, who had that role for almost 40 years.
Pappas said that Madigan “ruled with an iron first, and gaming was not a priority.”
But Pappas, apologizing for being “the skunk in the garden party,” said that the leadership change doesn’t guarantee fixes to the state’s sports betting law.
“There are so many issues there that once you open that act up, everyone is liable to want to tinker with it,” Pappas said. “I hope I’m wrong.”