The floodgates for expanded legal sports betting opened in 2018 courtesy of the United States Supreme Court and Justice Samuel Alito. There is now full-fledged legal operation of sportsbooks in Delaware, Mississippi, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, West Virginia, at one tribal casino in New Mexico, and of course it’s business as usual in the great state of Nevada.
The conversation heated up in statehouses across so-called blue, red and purple states months before SCOTUS even ruled — the machinery of politics and influence varying a bit in each state. Some states sped toward legalization with an eye toward redirecting black market dollars to state coffers. Some states kept it in first gear in order to hear out or appease powerful stakeholders, namely the pro sports leagues and tribal groups that are weighing how it may impact their existing tribal-state compacts.
If the frenetic pace of legislative and industry developments in 2018 is any indication, the pace in 2019 may resemble a group of children that devoured a seven-layer birthday cake and a fridge full of Coca Cola. In addition to pending bills in gaming states such as New York and Ohio, we’ve seen bills pre-filed in Tennessee and Virginia, both of which do not even have casinos.
With the start of 2019 legislative sessions just two weeks away, Sports Handle assembled a panel of eight analysts and industry experts to evaluate which states are most likely to pass sports wagering legislation in 2019:
- John Brennan — Longtime New Jersey reporter covering gaming issues, analyst for US Bets, NJ Online Gambling and PennBets.
- Robert DellaFave — Chief Operating Officer for the US Bets network.
- Jill Dorson — Analyst and legislative expert for Sports Handle and US Bets.
- Shawn Fluharty — Member of the West Virginia House of Delegates (D — Ohio, 03), sponsor of a bill in a state that legalized sports wagering in 2018.
- Jeff Ifrah — Gaming law expert who legal practice focuses on online gaming (among other things).
- Brian Pempus — Analyst and legislative expert for US Bets.
- Sara Slane — Senior vice president of public affairs at the American Gaming Association (AGA).
- Brett Smiley — Founder of Sports Handle, industry and legislative analyst.
We asked each member of the panel to rank 1 through 15, which states they deemed most likely to legalize in 2019. For “1” we awarded 15 points to the state’s aggregate score, then 14 points for a rank of “2” and so forth down the line. Accordingly the aggregate points indicate the total points each state received. The states are organized based on that point total.
The consolidated table below shows the state, the ranking from 1 to 15 and aggregate scores. Finally, below, please find a capsule with some words from our panelists about the particular situation and prospects in each state. How many of these states will go ahead and legalize in 2019? We shall see. com
(Update: While the D.C. Council legalized sports wagering on Dec. 18, because Congress has 30 days to potentially void the bill, we included the jurisdiction for consideration herein.)
Also receiving votes (aggregate score): Minnesota (14), Oklahoma (10), Oregon (8), Florida (4), Colorado (4), Maryland (2), Maine (2), Montana (1).
A few words on each state from our panelists:
(1) Washington, D.C. (Ifrah): The DC Council appears poised to operate its program through the DC Lottery. This could become a trend in subsequent states. New Mexico is a lottery model, and Delaware is too.
(2) New York (Smiley): What an interesting situation and a powder keg market waiting to go. The leading sister bills fizzled out in June and Senator John Bonacic — the torch bearer for a league-friendly bill along with Assemblyman Gary Pretlow — is retiring from the Senate. Can Pretlow shepherd a bill to Governor Cuomo’s desk? He seems less inclined to befriend the leagues with a “royalty” or “fee,” but has to also appease the state’s tribes, racetracks, off-track betting, and the commercial casinos which, by the way, may get a green light to begin offering sports wagers according to a law passed in 2013. Put simply: It’s complicated. But ultimately the pressure from watching taxable revenue siphoned by New Jersey and Pennsylvania should spark a compromise. But I ranked my home state 5, given the tug-of-war situation.
(3) Kentucky (DellaFave): Kentucky is clearly serious about sports wagering. A hearing held in October 2018 saw several lawmakers (from both sides of the aisle) show great support, and we expect multiple bills to be filed early in the 2019 session. One issue that remains is who will regulate the industry, the lottery or the horsemen, but we foresee that being overcome. High chance of legalization in 2019.
(4) Michigan (Pempus): Online gaming has been in the works for several years, but the removal of the PASPA roadblock has the Wolverine State as interested as ever in gambling expansion. The sponsor of the state’s online casino legislation has said he wants to create a “model” that other states could follow for sports wagering, so expect the issue to be a top priority next year. Though, Michigan will entertain royalties for the sports leagues, which could temporarily dim the state’s chances of successfully enacting a law.
(5) Ohio (Pempus): The governor-elect wants it; the legislature says it has the “intent” to legalize, which makes the state home to 11.6 million in America’s heartland a frontrunner to give sports fans a new way to engage. With neighboring Pennsylvania, which already has it, eyeing a satellite casino adjacent to the Ohio border, along with Michigan eager for sportsbooks, expect a full-fledged Ohio bill to emerge early in 2019.
(6) Illinois (Dorson): It’s unlikely that the state’s point person, Representative Bob Rita (D-District 28), will file a bill before the end of 2018, but plan on seeing comprehensive and thoughtful legislation before the session opens in earnest on Jan. 29. Rita held two hearings this year, both of which provided great detail and showed his colleagues on the Joint Committee for Revenue and Finance to be well educated. It’s a good bet that when Rita files legislation, he’ll already have the backing to pass it.
(7) Louisiana (Fluharty): I think Louisiana has gone from dark horse to a front runner. It recently used a referendum on daily fantasy sports to gauge public interest. It passed in 47 of 64 parishes. It is also holding the next NCLGS conference where Chris Christie is slated to be the headliner. Previously, NCLGS held a meeting in New Orleans where I was invited to be on a panel and several members of its legislature expressed interest in legalization. Finally, the neighboring state Mississippi recently passed, however, they failed to include mobile betting, which was a colossal error. This all makes Louisiana a top contender to be one of the next states entering the market.
(8) Missouri (Dorson): The Show-Me State is showing plenty. Two bills have been filed ahead of the 2019 session, though they are somewhat at odds with each other. That said, Missouri lawmakers seem poised to legalize the activity, once they hammer out whether or not to include a royalty – and where that royalty would be directed.
(9) Virginia (Ifrah): Virginia will be interesting because both Virginia and Washington, D.C. may legalize, but neither have casinos in their jurisdiction. This “no casino” model will be interesting to watch as they will need to come up with a new model that has not been implemented before in other states. This is more like the European model.
(10) Indiana (Brennan): State legislators can’t pass a bill that would allow for wagering on college sports because of the NCAA’s extensive partnerships in holding national championships of numerous sports in Indianapolis. Notre Dame officials also would likely lobby heavily against the idea. At the same time, those legislators can’t pass up what would be a very lucrative new revenue stream – particularly on Notre Dame football, where Chicago-area residents would flock to Indiana to make a legal wager there.
(11) Connecticut (Slane): It will be interesting to see how the sovereign tribal nations in Connecticut and Oklahoma move forward with offering sports wagering. Given what happened in New Mexico, it’s anyone’s guess as to who could go next.
(12) Massachusetts (Dorson): Though there’s been no real movement in the last few months, the Bay State commissioned a white paper and the subject was discussed among legislators several times. With Rhode Island already launched, several new casinos opened in Massachusetts, and Connecticut looking like it will make a move, it’s likely Massachusetts will move in 2019, it’s just a matter of when.
(13) Tennessee (Dorson): A Tennessee representative filed a bill ahead of the 2019 session, but the bill is the state’s first shot at legislation. Tennessee’s governor is on record as opposing the activity, so the state legislature will first have to come to a consensus and then convince Bill Lee to get on board. That’s a lot to get accomplished – and likely won’t – in a single session.
(14) Iowa (Smiley): Another situation where there might be some tug-of-war between the state lottery and the 20-plus commercial casinos. Iowa may have neighboring Missouri to contend with. I had thought they might legalize in ‘18 but the bill never made it out of committee. At this point it’s unclear who’s willing to go to bat for legalization. The governor Kim Reynolds is in no rush to sign a bill.
(15) Kansas (Dorson): Kansas lawmakers are admittedly feeling pressure to legalize, but are generally at odds with one another, and that will slow the process. A scheduled two-day hearing that was supposed to result in a recommendation of whether or not to move forward was cut down to one day last week, and after that two key lawmakers were finger pointing in the press. Expect Kansas to talk, and talk some more, but not make any real progress.