When Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed a legal sports betting bill into law during Christmas week, he capped off what was already the most prolific year yet for legal wagering. Nine states legalized sports betting in some fashion while 11 went live — either retail, digital, or both.
In the 3 1/2 years since the Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act on May 14, 2018, 33 U.S. jurisdictions have legalized some form of sports betting. That number includes Florida, where earlier this year a tribal-state compact was agreed upon and ratified by the state legislature and then “deemed approved” by the U.S. Department of the Interior before a federal district court vacated it.
Nineteen states still have the opportunity to legalize in the coming years, though three definitely will not in 2022. The legislatures in both North Dakota and Texas do not meet, and neither state has seen ballot initiatives proposed. It’s been accepted from the start, meanwhile, that Utah is unlikely to ever embrace gaming.
Before going into predictions for 2022, let’s consider Florida, which does not appear on the list below. As of today, wagering is not legal in Florida, although a federal appellate court decision in a pending case involving the Seminole Tribe’s compact with the state could change that.
But there are other pathways. The Seminoles could renegotiate their compact with the state to be more inclusive. Tribes in multiple states are currently offering statewide mobile wagering while being regulated by a tribal commission on reservation and the state off reservation. It’s also possible that voters could legalize. DraftKings and FanDuel are funding a campaign to get an initiative on the ballot next fall, which would require approval from 60% of voters for mobile wagering to be allowed both on and off tribal lands.
And then there is Mississippi. Among the first states to go live with retail wagering in 2018, lawmakers have been contemplating adding a mobile component for the last two sessions. That hasn’t come to fruition, but the pressure is ramping up as Louisiana prepares to launch statewide mobile wagering in early 2022 and Alabama also weighs legalizing. Mississippi lawmakers began crafting a bill for 2022 in November, but nothing has been filed yet. As it’s an election year, that potentially could derail any controversial sports betting bills in Mississippi and elsewhere.
Here’s a look at what could happen with sports betting legislation across the country:
Four states very likely to legalize
California: With as many as four ballot initiatives possible on the November 2022 ballot, there’s a good chance that California will legalize. That said, if all four initiatives were to get on the ballot, they could cause enough confusion to cancel each other out.
So far, the only initiative that is cleared for the ballot is a tribal initiative that would allow for retail-only wagering at tribal casinos and horse race tracks. The other three proposals — two are in the signature-gathering stage and one is still being reviewed by the attorney general’s office — would allow for statewide mobile. The big question is whether some California tribes will ultimately partner with commercial operators to back the California Solutions to Homelessness and Mental Health Act, a statewide mobile proposal put forth by a coalition of seven commercial operators, including BetMGM.
“We are funding and strongly supportive of one of the ballot initiatives,” MGM Resorts Senior VP of Public Affairs Ayesha Molino said during an ICE365 webinar earlier this month. “We are respectful of the California tribes. There has been a lot of confusion out there about what each ballot initiative does. For this one, the key takeaways are that there is appetite in California to legalize mobile sports betting [and] we are very cognizant of how important gaming is to California gaming tribes, so crafted [our proposal] carefully. And we think ultimately that our path forward does the best for voters in California. We think we have done a lot of work to thread this needle in a way that we can bring people together.”
Georgia: When the Democrats killed a legal sports betting bill this year during simultaneous dispute over a voting rights bill, it was somewhat symbolic. The decision of whether to legalize statewide mobile wagering would have to go to the voters, and there’s time during the 2022 session to get an initiative on the ballot. Lawmakers in both chambers — as well as the state’s professional sports teams — support a legal framework. There are still some issues to work out, but expect Georgia lawmakers to move forward.
“Georgia appears to be moving toward the Virginia/Tennessee model, with the lottery awarding online operator licenses, and we’ve seen some decent progress on a bill in 2021,” said Tipico U.S. Head of Business Development and Strategy Steve Krombolz. “There is optimism that 2022 could be the year.”
The bigger question would be which way voters go in November.
“The challenge with Georgia has always been the power of the pulpit, and while it will be an expensive race to get this to pass, the voters that attend church are going to be dissuaded every week, and that’s powerful advertising that can’t be bought,” said Brendan Bussmann, a partner in the consulting firm Global Market Advisors.
Massachusetts: What to say here? On the outside looking in, there doesn’t appear to be anything stopping legalization in the state that is home to industry giant DraftKings, but clearly, lawmakers can’t agree. All fall, there were whispers that a deal was coming, but legal sports betting remains in neutral. Given that Massachusetts is now an island surrounded by sports betting — with Connecticut legalizing and New York authorizing expansion to digital — pressure has to be mounting as residents increasingly cross the border to bet.
“Massachusetts has a robust gaming industry and is home to one of the larger sports betting brands — there is no reason why any bill has not passed,” Bussmann said. “It’s time to get this moving in Massachusetts.”
Goldberg wants lottery protections in sports betting bill: Legalizing sports betting is a good idea, Treasurer Deborah Goldberg agreed during an interview that aired this weekend, but lawmakers have to protect the Massachusetts… https://t.co/FjgbkY6yL9 #News #Uncategorized
— Boston's Best Radio (@BostonsRadio) December 28, 2021
North Carolina: As recently as November, a legal sports betting bill was working its way through the legislature. The bill would allow for statewide mobile and retail wagering. Already approved by the Senate, SB 688 is under review from House committees and can be carried over into 2022. Lawmakers legalized retail wagering at two tribal casinos in July 2020 and the first bets were taken in March 2021. There don’t appear to be any major roadblocks other than legislators failing to find a consensus.
“There is a bit of optimism that North Carolina will be able to pass a bill in ’22,” Krombolz said. “A lottery-controlled market, similar to what we would have seen in Tennessee and Virginia … could be in the cards, but early talks indicate the bill might limit the market to 10 to 12 mobile-only licenses, which would spark a competitive race to gain access.”
Six states that have potential
Alabama: In another state that would require a constitutional amendment, one Alabama senator said he’d lined up votes for a major expansion of gaming earlier this year but “waited too long” for the vote, and support evaporated. Next year could go either way, but Sen. Greg Albritton says he’s got plans to file a comprehensive bill that would create a state lottery, allow for casinos, and legalize statewide mobile and retail sports betting. That said, other lawmakers aren’t all that confident 2022 is the year.
“I would be very surprised if it would pass in a regular session in an election year,” Republican Rep. Steve Clouse told The Associated Press. “By the time we get toward [the] end of March/first of April, people are going to be antsy to get out of there.”
Said Bussmann: “The people of Alabama want to be able to decide on gaming. Gov. [Key] Ivey has said she wants to let voters decide, and the legislature needs to act so the voters can have a say, and [it needs to] put together a solid proposal that makes sense for Alabama.”
Kansas: Kansas is another state where lawmakers can’t seem to agree on what they want. Last year’s statewide mobile bill failed to pass the House’s Committee of the Whole, and multiple bills have been filed in each of the last several years. It’s a good bet lawmakers will try again, and should neighboring Missouri legalize, expect Kansas to follow suit. Another hitch is that dog racing is still legal in the state, and lobbyists have been clear that they want that sport exempted.
“The challenge with Kansas is this: They have debated it almost as long as everybody else, and it is the only state where PETA cares,” Bussmann said.
Maine: There’s probably no question that Maine lawmakers, in particular Sen. Louis Luchini, will put legal sports betting on the table again. Luchini got a bill passed in 2019, only to have Gov. Janet Mills veto it in 2020, so he tried again, and again, but Mills is staunchly opposed due to concerns around problem gambling. That said, it is now an election year, the legislature clearly supports sports betting, and Maine has been losing potential betting revenue to New Hampshire for two years now. So …. maybe.
Minnesota: It’s probably unlikely, but Minnesota has been flirting with legal sports betting for at least the last two years. The state’s 11 tribes, which operate casinos, have publicly opposed statewide mobile wagering. There’s also little consensus in the legislature. Should sports betting move, it could well be of the retail-only variety — other than Iowa, the upper Midwest doesn’t seem to have much of a taste for mobile wagering.
Please make sports betting legal, Minnesota. Just do it. I have money to win. Or lose. In spectacular fashion. It’s a toss up really.
Anyway throw your support behind it @GovTimWalz!!!
— Zach Mueller (@ZachJMueller) December 26, 2021
Missouri: If the legislature doesn’t get it done in 2022, there’s a good chance the voters will. Missouri lawmakers have already prefiled five bills, and as in the past, they’re all over the map. At least one includes video lottery terminals, and official league data could also be on the table. There’s no consensus, meanwhile, on the tax rate. But a new wrinkle this year is that the state’s pro teams filed nine proposals to legalize sports betting, one of which could end up before voters in November. All nine proposals have been approved to collect signatures by the secretary of state.
Oklahoma: In the second-biggest tribal gaming state in the U.S., Oklahoma lawmakers and tribes have made few attempts at legalizing sports betting in large part because the tribes are essentially at war with Gov. Kevin Stitt. Stakeholders say they are hearing rumblings that sports betting could be a discussion topic, but Stitt will need to make peace with the tribes before anything can happen.
10 states that will just say no
Alaska: Lawmakers in Alaska have commissioned studies and discussed legal sports betting, but it doesn’t appear that the third-smallest state by population has much of an appetite for it.
Hawaii: A handful of bills were filed at the start of the 2021 legislative session, and they’ll carry over into 2022, but Hawaii seems to be at the very beginning of exploring sports betting, so legalization seems unlikely.
Idaho: No bills, no interest. Other than Utah, Idaho is surrounded by legal wagering states, but it remains — and likely will remain — a literal roadblock to a cross-country drive of sports betting states. No joke, read this.
Kentucky: Apologies to Republican Rep. Adam Koenig for putting Kentucky in the “no” pile, because that man has for years educated, glad-handed, and patiently explained why legal sports betting makes sense for his state, which, by the way, is the cradle of horse racing. But the politics in Kentucky just don’t seem to allow for it. Some lawmakers have conservative constituents, others don’t want Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear to “get a win” with sports betting, and still others just don’t care enough. It appears 2022 is probably yet another dead end.
“Some people think it’s evil and sinning,” Koenig told Sports Handle earlier this month. “Some people think their constituents don’t want it. It’s fair to say voting ‘no’ on anything gambling is a safe vote, especially if you’re a Republican and have to face a Republican primary.”
New Mexico: Sports betting isn’t, by definition, legal in New Mexico, but it’s also not explicitly illegal. A handful of tribal casinos followed the Santa Ana Star’s lead in 2018 and began offering betting while the government looked the other way. Don’t expect anything to change.
North Dakota: The legislature is not in session in 2022.
South Carolina: With opposition in the governor’s mansion, no new legislation or discussion seems afoot in South Carolina. Lawmakers last filed a bill in 2019.
Texas: The legislature is not in session in 2022.
Utah: Because of its Mormon leanings, Utah is essentially a dead state where gaming is concerned.
Vermont: Vermont lawmakers have commissioned studies and that’s … about it. No new bills have been filed ahead of the 2022 session.