Sports Betting Legislation Progress: Assessing The Outlook In 11 States — Including New York

Some are at a standstill, but a few, including Ohio and Connecticut, seem to have open road ahead of them
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New York’s mobile legalization hopes have dominated the headlines in recent weeks, but the Empire State hasn’t cornered the market on will-they-won’t-they sports betting intrigue.

Sure, optimism and pessimism for New York have ping-ponged back and forth like the overnight live betting odds in the last presidential election. And yes, it’s the biggest state — by far — among those considering regulation of online wagering. So the collectively transfixed gaze in the direction of Albany is understandable.

But New York has plenty of company among states generating news this spring. In fact, on Monday, just as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was re-flipping the dial from “fuggetaboutit” to “I wanna be a part of it,” the tiniest state in terms of population, 581,000-resident-strong Wyoming, officially legalized statewide mobile betting.

Ten other states were or are making noise in 2021, so let’s update where they all stand, starting with New York and working our way down the population-based pecking order.

New York

As of Tuesday morning, the question of whether New York will add mobile betting to accommodate the millions of residents without easy access to one of few upstate casinos with retail sportsbooks remained unanswerable. In a matter of hours sometimes, it goes from possibly “nearing finish line” to the best spin anyone can put on it being, “There is still a pulse.” And the latest developments don’t make the near future any clearer.

On the pro side: Cuomo is speaking positively about the subject, and the state government and the Oneida Indian Nation are in conversation and trying to make the deal work for all.

On the con side: The New York budget still isn’t figured out almost a week after it was due, the Oneida Nation is not satisfied with the current plan, and Cuomo is still floating ideas that are closer to a monopoly than a wide-open market.

As long as the governor is saying things like, “We don’t need the casinos as a middleman,” it’s safe to assume there’s still work to be done before regulated online gaming becomes an option for New Yorkers.

Ohio

If you were playing in some sort of fantasy league where the goal is to draft states that are likely to legalize sports betting in 2021 and points are scored based on population size, Ohio would be the easy No. 1 pick.

The pieces appear to be falling into place for the Buckeye State and its approximately 11.7 million residents. A bill is expected to be introduced before the end of this month, and the concept of sports betting has support among Ohio’s power brokers, most notably Gov. Mike DeWine.

Numerous legislative hearings lie ahead, and there are major issues to be untangled — most notably how to balance the interests of the digital sports betting operators, existing casinos, the Ohio Lottery, and the state’s professional sports teams. But if we can judge the likelihood of bill passage by local sports teams making partnership deals, Ohio is clearly headed in the right direction.

Georgia

For those who like their bad news delivered quickly and directly, here goes: Georgia sports betting 2021 — not happening.

In short, bigger-picture politics have reportedly gotten in the way of whatever smaller-picture politics surround sports wagering legislation. That’s the pecking order, and let’s face it, Coke and Delta aren’t speaking out against sports betting. Even Major League Baseball has priorities in Georgia it considers more important than gambling on sports.

But whether or not a sports betting bill got through the General Assembly this session is something of a moot point. The key bill moving forward called for a referendum on the 2022 ballot, and that’s still doable if lawmakers can get past the bigger-picture political issues by the start of the next session.

Arizona

There are good reasons and bad reasons for sports betting legislation to fizzle out. A typo in an amendment surely falls into the latter category.

Arizona is one of several states fighting the uphill battle of squaring commercial and state interests with tribal interests, so it was never a minus-money favorite that the southwestern state would advance sports betting in 2021. Even when the House moved a bill to the Senate in March, any optimism was of the cautious variety.

There’s still a chance something positive could happen before the legislative session ends April 24, but all indications are that negotiations in Arizona are closer to the beginning than the end.

Massachusetts

If Massachusetts doesn’t get sports betting done in 2021, it won’t be due to any shortage of legislation. About a dozen proposals have been filed so far this year, with perhaps the most notable coming from Gov. Charlie Baker. It would put the Massachusetts Gaming Commission in charge of determining how many skins each licensee would have and thus how many competitors could enter the market.

Baker’s bill has tax rates of 10% for in-person betting and 12.5% for online; the notable bills filed by various state senators all come with higher tax rates.

The legislative session doesn’t end until Dec. 31, so there’s plenty of time to hammer out a bill, but the lack of news over the last few weeks isn’t especially encouraging.

Missouri

The elected officials in the Show-Me State are showing their constituents that they’re interested in bringing them legal sports betting — but at this stage it’s more conversation than culmination. That conversation was lively, at least, in February, and it does appear lawmakers are making a serious effort to move something forward before the session ends in late May.

One bill, filed by Sen. Denny Hoskins, has been on the state’s “Calendar for Perfection” (their name for a floor vote) for weeks, but hasn’t come up for discussion.

Eight bills have been filed, but they’re all over the place in terms of tax rates and even the dreaded “royalty fee” to the major sports leagues. One thing is clear, though: With mobile betting alive and thriving in Illinois and folks to the west driving across the border to take advantage of it, there’s a sense of urgency in Missouri.

Kentucky

Legalizing sports betting in Kentucky during an odd-numbered year, when it needs to be passed by a three-fifths majority, was always a long shot, despite a bill being filed in January. And indeed, the session ended in March without a vote.

But in even-numbered years, a simple majority vote will get the job done. So look for Rep. Adam Koenig to get more serious about putting Kentucky on the sports betting map in 2022.

Connecticut

Connecticut is the biggest little state in the sports betting mix. It’s only the 29th largest state by population, at about 3.55 million people, but it borders New York and Massachusetts and it ranks fifth among states in per capita income.

This is a bit of a recurring theme in this article, but the key to Connecticut lies in getting the tribes on board. That happened last month, when Gov. Ned Lamont, the Mohegan Tribe, and the Mashantucket Pequots announced a new compact that allows the state legislature to move forward. Soon after, a package of bills deemed satisfactory by both tribes moved out of committee.

There’s a fascinating subplot that sees DraftKings operating in the state via a deal secured with Foxwoods in December 2020 and FanDuel possibly denied access. But however the details shake out, Connecticut is one of the strongest contenders to legalize, and possibly even launch, online betting in 2021.

Kansas

Well, the Kansas Senate did its job, passing a retail and mobile sports betting bill by a 23-15 vote in late February.

But, to paraphrase Rowdy Roddy Piper, just when the Senate has all the answers, the House changes the questions. Last week, lawmakers in the House substituted their own bill for the one the Senate had passed, then failed to pass that substitute bill out of committee.

The legislature is in session until May 15, so there’s still time for Kansas to iron out the inconsistencies among the various proposals and make something happen this year.

Nebraska

The Cornhusker State is unusual in that voters already approved a trio of gaming expansion bills at the ballot box last November, and there was some question about whether or not the expansion included sports betting. Lawmakers have since agreed that it does.

Lawmakers and stakeholders are now working behind the scenes on a regulatory framework, and just Tuesday morning another amendment was filed. Among other things, this one would prohibit prop bets on individual performances by college athletes.

With any luck, lawmakers will hammer out the details sooner than later and hand off the framework to regulators, and sports betting will be live by the end of the year.

Maine

Of all the states that could have sports betting right now and don’t, Maine is perhaps the most heartbreaking, as the Pine Tree State had all the hard work done in January 2020, only to see Gov. Janet Mills veto an otherwise widely embraced bill.

A little over a year later, Maine has re-entered the fray, with a new bill just introduced this week.

It’s far too early to say what hopes SB 1352, with its 10% tax on retail revenue, 16% tax on mobile revenue, and ban on in-state college betting (sorry, backers of Bowdoin and Bates), has of passing. But we know that, in concept, legislators are on board.

Photo by Alexey Erofejchev / Shutterstock.com

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