While 29 states and the District of Columbia have now launched legal sports betting in the U.S., legislators and regulators in more than a dozen other states are still in the process of proposing or fine-tuning their own rules for new gambling.
And on Tuesday, the chief regulators in Arizona, Louisiana, and Maryland underscored the challenges ahead for them during a one-hour webinar sponsored by Gambling Compliance and titled “New Markets In U.S. Sports Betting.”
Louisiana has launched sports betting, but so far only at brick-and-mortar sites, and with nine of 64 parishes in the state not participating.
Arizona now has both retail and mobile sports wagering, but “geofencing” off tribal lands is proving difficult.
And in Maryland — well, it’s complicated.
Maryland still in limbo
John Martin, appointed as Maryland Lottery and Gaming Director in April, did his best to explain the somewhat byzantine sports betting rules in his state.
There are up to 17 land-based licenses available for six casinos, five off-track betting sites, three professional sports teams, two large bingo halls, and a license that could be shared by the state’s two racetracks.
Up to 30 more independent land-based licenses are available, and as many as 60 mobile sports betting licenses are in play.
Martin dubbed Colorado “the leader in the clubhouse” with 26 sportsbooks, so the potential in Maryland makes it quite an outlier.
Also, lawmakers elected to establish a Sports Wagering Application Review Commission (SWARC) to be part of the exhaustive, four-step review process for approval of operators.
“We have the most comprehensive sports wagering legislation in the country, which probably has its pros and cons,” Martin said. “The legislation created an independent group to work with us in tandem — and the reality is, we have yet to work well together.
“That’s a work in progress, and we have to find a way to make this happen.”
Five applicants — each of them casino operators — were expected last month to receive a go-ahead from SWARC members, sending the applications back to regulators for final approval. Instead, the commissioners requested more information about the ownership of the various partnerships.
While SWARC has a meeting scheduled for Thursday that could revive the brick-and-mortar process, Martin said he believes that would-be mobile bettors “have a long ways to go.”
“Pencil me in for November 2022, when I’ll be in a better position to talk about our mobile landscape,” said Martin, jokingly lobbying for a spot on a sequel to Tuesday’s webinar one year down the road.
Louisiana: A ‘big easy’?
Ronnie Johns, a former state senator who resigned in July to become chairman of the Louisiana State Gaming Control Board, offered an update on his state’s sports betting.
Of the 16 casinos and four racetracks in the state, Johns said that 13 have submitted applications and eight of those have been issued licenses.
“The rollout has gone well, launching the morning of the Saints-Buccaneers game on Oct. 31,” Johns said. “There was an incredible amount of activity in the New Orleans market that morning.
“We anticipate the other five licenses to be issued in the coming weeks,” Johns noted. “That will leave us with seven properties, and the legislation requires that they have to apply by Dec. 31 or they lose their opportunity. I do anticipate that all seven will apply.
“Our goal for online is that we go live in early 2022, but there are some real challenges ahead for us.”
Johns later added, “I have said that January 2022 is a goal, but look, it may be March ’22 when it all rolls out. So I may be taking the heat for it.”
The nine parishes that voted down sports betting have led Johns to learn about the “geofencing” industry, which he said “is incredible in how it works.”
Arizona’s aggressive path
The speed of Arizona’s rollout has surprised many in the U.S. gaming industry. Sports betting wasn’t legalized until April 15, yet the first bets were taken on Sept. 9.
How did the state pull that off?
Ted Vogt, the director of the Arizona Department of Gaming, said that one key was “early dialogue” with prospective operators. A series of public stakeholders meetings, meanwhile, “meant that everybody got heard. There were no smoky backroom deals.”
Up to 20 sports betting licenses are available in Arizona, Vogt said, with half of 18 slots already allocated “up and running” and two more that are “the subject of lawsuits.”
Another 10 retail-only licenses are available for racetracks and OTBs, and Vogt said most or all of those could be approved in December.
The provision in the Arizona law designed to keep statewide mobile operators from being able to take bets on sovereign tribal lands ran into unexpected hurdles, Vogt said.
“A lot of [tribes] did not have very accurate maps of what their borders were, so we are still working with the Bureau of Indian Affairs on getting accurate maps,” Vogt said.
Sports betting ads a concern
All three regulators addressed the nationwide issue of the prevalence of sports betting advertising.
“We have seen some complaints from the sheer volume of it, and I don’t expect that to die down,” said Vogt, adding that the legislature in Arizona could seek to address concerns when it reconvenes in January.
Martin said that in Maryland, the state lottery — which he also oversees — could face advertising rate increases from television and radio stations given the amount of competition for air time with a slew of new sports betting operators.
Johns said that while Louisiana hasn’t quite launched its mobile sports betting yet, that hasn’t stopped approved operators from airing “a tremendous amount of advertising in the past few weeks” with incentives being offered at signup.
“I served 22 years in the legislature — if this is a problem, they are going to take a swipe at it” during the lawmakers’ annual session, Johns said.
Advice offered to future legal states
Vogt recommended to lawmakers and regulators in states still in the approval process that they “reach out to other jurisdictions and talk to them about what worked and what didn’t. That was very helpful to us.”
Johns advised regulators to “take your time, and don’t rush.”
“Everybody is clamoring [to begin sports betting], with a lot of operators who wanted to go live a little bit earlier,” Johns said. “But you have to do it the right way. It’s a lot easier to do it the right way first, instead of having to fix problems later on.
“We hear from operators and vendors, ‘We don’t have to do this in other states,'” Johns added. “Sorry, but this is what our legislature says we have to do. Don’t be bashful about standing up for your [state’s] program, because you are going to get challenged.”