Governors wield unique political power. While they can’t make laws, they can certainly veto potential laws, or try to force a bill through their state legislature. In the hopes of padding their treasuries, at least four governors have heartily endorsed sports betting this year, and two went so far as to include sports betting as a revenue line item in their budgets.
So, if you’re handicapping which states may be at the forefront of legalizing sports betting in 2019, it may be time to move Illinois, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire up your list.
That tactic worked for Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo in 2018, when she included a $23.5 million sports betting revenue line item in her budget early in the year. Six months later, a sports betting bill landed on her desk, making Rhode Island the third state to legalize sports betting in 2018, and sixth to launch. Due to a delay in the launch, Raimondo probably won’t see the $23.5 million she was hoping for.
From Illinois to New Hampshire, governors are ‘all in’
But governors in Illinois and New Hampshire are following her lead in 2019. Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker projects his state will bring in $200 million in sports betting revenue, and has included that revenue in his fiscal year 2020 budget.
“Sports betting is different – this is a new market created by a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision. Every day we argue about “who’s in and who’s out” is money that goes to other states and to the black market,” Pritzker, a Democrat, said in his budget address on Jan. 20 in the state capital of Springfield.
“I am calling on the legislature to take this up immediately so that Illinois can realize hundreds of millions of dollars, create new jobs, and bring sports betting into a regulated environment that will protect citizens from bad actors. If we do it this year and become the first state in the Midwest to move on this initiative, we can realize more than $200 million from sports betting fees and taxes in FY 2020.”
On prospects for legal sports betting in Illinois:
“If we don’t get this done by June, it will be a failure of the legislature, because we have the momentum,” Zalewski said. https://t.co/zoMHsvoqhh
— Sports Handle (@sports_handle) February 28, 2019
That call to action was received, loud and clear.
“I think that the governor mentioned it cannot be understated,” said Illinois Representative Mike Zalewski, Chairman of the House Finance and Revenue Committee. “He’s dealing with a fiscal situation that is going to take a few cycles to get out of. The fact that he views sports betting as part of that solution is a huge deal. We’re going to have to help him with the super Majority in House and Senate.”
Zalewski (D-District 23) is among a powerhouse team of Illinois lawmakers that are planning to bring sports betting bills. They’ve done a lot of the legwork to prepare and craft passable legislation, and having Pritzker’s go-ahead is just another piece of the political puzzle.
In Massachusetts, governor proposed his own sports betting bill
Whether or not Illinois will be the first mover in the Midwest remains to be seen, as neighboring Indiana is already moving a comprehensive gaming expansion package through its capital, while Missouri and Iowa have multiple bills circulating and Michigan, which came within a whisker of a gaming expansion that would have legalized sports betting in 2018, is expected to have similar legislation this year.
Across the country, three New England governors gave the green light to legal sports betting. In New Hampshire, Republican Governor Chris Sununu called for legalizing sports betting in his annual budget speech, new Democratic Connecticut Governor Ned LaMont used his bi-annual budget address to suggest that legalizing sports betting and recreational marijuana would be new revenue sources, and Massachusetts Republican Governor Charlie Baker went so far as to send his own version of a sports betting bill to the state legislature. There are at least 15 sports betting bills making the rounds on Beacon Hill in Boston.
“The Massachusetts Gaming Commission has developed a comprehensive set of regulations, and passing this bill into law will allow the proper oversight of the industry’s next chapter in addition to providing critical support to the Commonwealth’s cities and towns,” Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Governor Karyn Polito said in a statement following Baker’s proposal.
NH sports betting bill set for March 7 hearing
Ready for mobile sports betting in New Hampshire? If you want the right to bet on sports in NH you have to act NOW!
— DraftKings (@DraftKings) February 7, 2019
In New Hampshire, lawmakers welcomed Sununu’s support of legalized sports betting.
Representative Timothy Lang (R-District 4), who is the sponsor of the HB 480, was thrilled by the “shout-out” from the governor. His bill is set for a hearing in the House Ways and Means Committee on March 6. On the Senate side, SB 310, which would legalize two casinos in the state and includes a provision for sports betting, was voted out of the Finance Committee earlier this month with a recommendation to kill the bill. It will go before the full Senate on March 7. Lang”s bill is more focused on sports betting, rather than legalizing casinos, and calls for state-wide mobile with the lottery as the regulatory body.
Sununu enthusiastically endorsed sports betting as a new revenue stream that New Hampshire can use to finance education initiatives.
“This budget increases our education revenue streams by legalizing sports betting, which will bring in an additional $10 million in annual revenue beginning in fiscal year 2021,” Sununu said in his Valentine’s Day budget speech. “Given our new opportunities to legalize sports betting in a responsible and reliable way, and capture more revenue for our education system, I say we go All In and get it Done!”