State-by-state talks about the legalization of sports betting have been non-hypothetical conversations for about 10.5 months now, following the fall of the federal ban PASPA in May 2018. Now eight states have legalized and currently regulate sports wagering in some form, while dozens of pieces of legislation to bring more states into the industry are still alive as we head into the second quarter of 2019.
Sports bettors, and many outside of gambling as well, love looking at probabilities. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to generate meaningful hypothetical odds for state-sanctioned sports betting, thanks in part to momentum in state houses appearing to change as often as the direction of the wind.
So, here at Sports Handle we are going to try something a little different. Here’s a look at 12 key states on the 2019 sports betting front, all with songs reflecting their respective situations. Some of these states have legalized but not fully launched. Enjoy at least some of the music.
The Bear State recently kicked off casino gaming, and it’s expected that later this year retail sports betting will begin. As it should to fully realize market potential, Arkansas is looking at allowing licensees to offer sportsbooks on mobile platforms. The only problem at this juncture is that the bill on the table is a stinker. It would give the sports leagues (Arkansas, ironically, doesn’t have a MLB, NFL, or NBA team) 1% of the entire betting handle, a figure that was pitched in other states in 2018 but fell out of fashion thanks to pushback from the gaming industry and sports fans alike. Leagues themselves are now “asking” for 0.25%. The Arkansas bill would also give the leagues more of their wish list and quite a bit of say in what bets would be allowed. Hence:
The Golden State, by far the nation’s most populous state, is the crown jewel of any online gambling market, including sports wagering. It’s also home to the largest tribal casino gaming market in the country and a robust commercial card room industry. Stakeholder battles made online poker legislation impossible for about a decade, and that’s shaping up to be the case for the foreseeable future with sports betting. California’s flush gaming industry is simply too large and complex to make sports betting passage easy.
With a potential for more than $10 billion in annual sports betting handle, Illinois possesses one of the largest untapped markets in the country. How to divvy up the market (who can gain access to it) will be a matter of intense debate in Illinois. Legislation calls for the so-called “bad actor” provisions, which is unabashedly designed to and would prevent the two DFS -giants-turned-sportsbook operators, FanDuel and DraftKings, from the market because of their activity in Illinois when the legality of DFS was (and still is) under some scrutiny.
The Hoosier State has a mature gambling market, making it a natural fit for passing a solid framework for regulating sports betting. However, the vehicle for sports betting is an historic piece of gambling legislation that calls for major changes to industry in the state. The bill also faces an uphill battle against some socially-conservative lawmakers who think mobile would be bad for Indiana. The legislation, which cleared the Senate in February, was slated to have a hearing this week, but that was postponed. Right now, we’re hoping that the legislation’s progress can hold in the face of the challenges and find a route for passage this session.
The Hawkeye State’s efforts in 2019 are still alive, but it all comes down to Republicans and Democrats hashing out compromises on certain key provisions of the legislation. Few states have such a stark partisan battle on the sports betting issue. Democrats in the state have expressed concern about wagering on college sports, prompting a “deal” on in-game wagers. That’s the good news, but some are now calling for additional taxes.
The Bluegrass State was high on most people’s lists going into 2019, thanks, in part, to Kentucky having a mature market for betting on horses and state officials looking for new revenue streams to help make a dent into the pension liability. Momentum was building in Kentucky, but opposition from the Baptist community specifically played a key role in defeating the legislation. It looked like the opponents were being won over by some late changes to the bill, but after much work in 2018 to set the table and momentum early, proponents are left wondering what exactly happened behind the scenes.
The Pelican State recently saw the pre-filing of a sports betting bill, which calls for all 64 parishes to vote on whether they want sports betting to be legal within their borders or not. It’s a complicated and unusual regulatory scheme (same as in the 2018 DFS parish-by-parish vote), but it’s a necessary one for passing the legislation (which doesn’t currently call for mobile). Should the bill clear the legislature this session and be before voters this fall, folks can expect plenty of political advertising to hit the airwaves.
The Bay State, through its governor, appears to be committed to acting on sports betting sooner rather than later. While many stakeholders, and their accompanying policymakers, have shown interest, there could be a problem of too many hands trying to grab a piece of the cookie. There are a dozen bills pending to legalize sports wagering. Massachusetts wants to join the party, it’s just a matter of finding the right dance partner(s).
The Wolverine State technically doesn’t have a sports betting bill on the table, but the online casino legislation contains language that would allow state gaming regulators to OK licensees for mobile sports betting. Nearly identical legislation passed both the Michigan House and Senate last year, before a surprise veto by the former governor. Michigan is expected to do it all over again this year and deliver the bill to the new governor.
The Empire State will almost surely kick off sports betting this year at four upstate, commercial casinos, without a mobile component. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, not a friend of the gaming industry in general and who has poured cold water on efforts to legalize all along, citing a constitutional roadblock that some lawmakers are looking to work around. But Cuomo has said that sports betting tax revenue would be a “rounding error” for the budget. That may be so, but with a market potential of nearly $19 billion in annual handle (per a study commissioned by the casino industry), New York is leaving a lot of money on the table. There’s a lot of economic activity at stake (about $2.6 billion in total economic output), but officials have so far been unable to sort things out. To synopsize Gov. Cuomo’s feelings:
The Keystone State has had retail sports betting since November and some properties are still moving ahead with sportsbooks, but all eyes are on when the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board will be ready to permit operators to offer sports betting over the internet. There have been numerous delays on the online launch, with June or July now the target for the games beginning. The casino licensees, which had to pay $10 mm for a sports betting license (and who are also subjected to a 36% tax rate), are surely growing slightly impatient.
Despite emerging as a dark horse to legalize sports betting either this year or next, Tennessee’s efforts have not been free of speed bumps. In late March, a House committee voted narrowly to shoot down a proposed amendment to ban betting on major holidays and on Sundays, from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. The idea was supported by nine lawmakers (which is nine too many), in an effort to appease the staunch social conservatives. The idea could resurface if/when the bill advances, and if a restriction of that nature makes its way into the final version of a bill, Tennessee’s sports betting industry will belong in the discard pile. To which everyone who’s not a staunch social conservative, perhaps betting in the illegal market, say: