On National Voter Registration Day and with the presidential election just six weeks away, it seems an apt time to take a look at legal sports betting referendums that will appear on the ballot in three states. It’s a potential windfall for sports betting, and somewhat unusual — previously, only two states had legalized sports betting via referendum — Colorado and Arkansas. Californians will have a chance to vote on sports betting, but not until 2022 via a referendum put forth by the state’s tribes.
On Nov. 3, voters in Louisiana, Maryland and South Dakota will have a chance to vote “yes” or “no” to bringing legal sports betting to their states – in some capacity. Because of COVID-19-shortened legislative sessions, voters in Louisiana and Maryland will literally be voting only on whether or not to legalize — not according to a certain framework. Lawmakers in both states simplified their ballot initiatives in haste with the idea that if voters say “yes,” they would hammer out details during the 2021 session. In South Dakota, the decision will be more narrow, as voters will decide if sports betting can be added to the menu of gaming options in the tourist hub of Deadwood only.
Here’s a look at the referendums:
Maryland betting referendum
How the referendum will read:
“Do you favor the expansion of commercial gaming in the State of Maryland to authorize sports and event betting for the primary purpose of raising revenue for education?”
What’s the deal?: According to reports in the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun, sports betting and daily fantasy juggernauts DraftKings and FanDuel are both putting money behind the legalization effort. DraftKings has reportedly committed $250,000, while FanDuel has committed $500,000 and will put in up to an additional $1.5 million, if needed. To date, no opponents have donated money to stop the initiative.
DraftKings, FanDuel have spent $750 K on campaign to legalize Maryland sports betting on ballot. If this passes, Annapolis will be swarming with lobbyists eager to win their clients a piece of the action. https://t.co/45jY6uYhva
— Jeff Barker (@sunjeffbarker) September 15, 2020
Maryland lawmakers have been discussing sports betting since 2018, and didn’t want to halt the process. Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Maryland Senate unanimously approved a sports betting bill and sent it to the House. But the legislature shut down early due to pandemic restrictions, lawmakers stripped the bill to a single referendum question, and both chambers quickly voted to put the question on the November ballot.
The earlier Senate bill called for statewide mobile and retail sports betting at six existing casinos, horse racetracks and at the Washington Football Team’s venue, should the team decide to stay in Maryland. Betting on college sports would be allowed and the tax rate on revenue in the bill was 20%. Unlike the rules in for sports betting in Virginia, the bill did not require operators to use “official league data.”
What the neighbors are doing: Maryland lawmakers have been under increasing pressure to legalize in the last year. Every one of Maryland’s border states has legalized sports betting, most recently, Virginia, where regulators are aiming for operators to go live in January. In May, the Washington, D.C. Lottery launched its GamBetDC mobile app, and in late July, the first sportsbook at a pro venue went live at Capital One Arena. Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia were three of the first five states to offer legal sports after the fall of PASPA.
How the referendum will read:
“PROPOSITION TO AUTHORIZE SPORTS WAGERING ACTIVITIES.
Shall sports wagering activities and operations be permitted in the parish
of _________________? YES ( ) NO ( )”
What’s the deal?: The decision on sports wagering in Louisiana will come parish by parish, just like daily fantasy was in 2018. So, it could work out that only certain parts of the state have legal sports betting. Voters in 47 of 64 parishes voted to legalize DFS, but two years later, there is no live DFS. Why? Because any changes involving state finances requires a two-thirds majority to pass, so a tax rate has not yet been set. Lawmakers have tried and prior to COVID-19 shutdowns were on the verge of sorting out the taxes. But with the shortened session, legislators chose to get the question on the ballot and manage the details later.
Lawmakers are already mostly on the same page about what sports betting will look like — on-site retail sports betting would be allowed at the state’s existing riverboat casinos, the New Orleans’ Harrah’s land-based casino and at racetracks around the state — but not online. Betting on college sports would be allowed, and the Louisiana Gaming Control Board would be the regulator.
What the neighbors are doing: Mississippi was the third state to go live with legal sports betting after the fall of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in May 2018. There wagering at brick-and-mortar sportsbooks across the state at commercial and tribal casinos, but online/mobile wagering is permitted only when patrons are on premises, not throughout the state. The Mississippi Gaming Commission is the regulator, and it’s legal to bet on colleges. Arkansas voters legalized sports betting at four venues via referendum in 2018, and there is currently no statewide mobile there. Texas has not legalized sports betting.
How the referendum will read:
“A “yes” vote supports amending the state constitution to authorize the South Dakota State Legislature to legalize sports betting within the city limits of Deadwood, South Dakota, with all net municipal proceeds (defined) dedicated to the Deadwood Historic Restoration and Preservation Fund.
A “no” vote opposes authorizing the legislature to legalize sports betting in Deadwood.”
AG sets explanation for Deadwood sports betting constitutional amendment https://t.co/2CtaVkhdID
— Alfonso Straffon 🇨🇷🇺🇸🇲🇽 (@astraffon) May 12, 2020
What’s the deal? South Dakota currently has legal gaming in Deadwood only, and the referendum simply seeks to expand the offerings to include sports betting. The referendum landed on the ballot after lawmakers shot it down and the Deadwood Gaming Association gathered enough signatures to get it on the ballot.
According to the Black Hills Pioneer, Deadwood Gaming Association President Mike Rodman says South Dakotans are crossing the border into Iowa to bet, and that having sports betting would keep Deadwood as a “competitive gaming destination.”
There’s little framework behind the referendum, but should it pass, Rodman predicts a 9% tax rate, and given the state’s history with gaming, it should be relatively easy to integrate sports betting.
What the neighbors are doing: Of South Dakota’s five border states, only two have live, legal sports betting, and only Iowa has statewide mobile. The Montana Lottery launched betting in March, but it is only via kiosk, in person at lottery retailers. Sports betting has been a topic of conversation in the state legislatures in Minnesota, Nebraska and Wyoming, though no real movement has been made in any of those states. On Wednesday, lawmakers in Wyoming will get a look at a new Gaming Commission Study that should set the groundwork for more serious sports betting talks.