Sports Betting Legalization Mid-Year Report: 7 States Fall Short in 2021
Tim Warner/Getty Images. Pictured: Texas Longhorns mascot Hook’Em.
Nine states passed 2021 sports betting bills. Seven more tried and fell short. Here are states that have concluded their respective 2021 lawmaking sessions and, barring a legislative miracle, will have to look to 2022 (or beyond) to legalize sports betting.
The nation’s second-most populated state, Texas became a focal point of gaming company and sports franchise lobbyists during the 2021 session. The renewed interest – and multiple bipartisan gaming bills – once again fell short.
Republican lawmakers, most notably Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, opposed casino and sports betting legislation, effectively killing any legislative efforts despite the heavy propositioning from the aforementioned interest groups. Texas lawmakers aren’t set to reconvene in session until 2023.
Additionally, the state constitution requires a voter referendum to approve any gambling, meaning even if a bill passes in 2023 a referendum vote couldn’t come until 2024 and legal betting couldn’t begin until 2025 (at the earliest).
Alabama surprised many gaming industry observers by advancing a commercial casino, sportsbook and lottery legislative passage. Despite several top politicians’ endorsements, the legislation fell short before the state’s 2021 session expired.
Gambling remains politically controversial in Alabama, one of the few remaining states without any of the aforementioned gaming options. This year was the closest Alabama has ever come, and proponents hope it could mean a breakthrough when lawmakers return for the 2022 session next January.
A last-second legal sports betting push was sidelined in part over larger debates surrounding the state’s voter registration legislation. However, a sports betting proposal will have a political head start in Georgia’s two-year legislative terms, meaning it could have good odds to pass during the second portion in 2022.
Sports betting is supported by the state’s professional sports teams and could be used to fund the state’s popular lottery-funded HOPE college scholarships. Though there’s clear momentum in the statehouse, proponents next year will still have to overcome opposition from influential anti-gambling and religious groups.
Legislation that would have permitted statewide mobile wagering and a dozen online skins cruised through the Kansas state Senate but was derailed in the House. A competing House measure expanded sports betting access to hundreds of state lottery retailers, a non-starter for the sportsbook operators behind the Senate bill.
The concept of legal sports betting has bipartisan political support, but this impasse will have to be solved before legal betting begins. Proponents will likely try again to bridge this divide in 2022.
A 2020 bill passed out of its initial committee without opposition before it ran out of political momentum. The 2021 follow-up didn’t even get that far.
Kentucky lawmakers have largely resisted gaming bills beyond pari-mutuel horse racing, and officials focused much of their attention on restoring the state’s historic horse racing terminals after the state supreme court banned them late last year. Sports betting proponents will likely try again in 2021, but it remains a difficult political climb in one of the nation’s most political and socially conservative states.
Though lawmakers introduced roughly a dozen sports betting bills in 2021, legal wagering was once again blocked by elected officials more concerned with the state’s “grey” gambling machines. The fate of these terminals, which are in hundreds of Missouri truck stops and convenience stores and function like slot machines, has remained unresolved for years.
Policymakers have battled over banning the machines, a move favored by the state’s casinos, legalizing them or finding some other solution. This continues to suck up much of Missouri’s political oxygen for gaming matters.
North Dakota lawmakers surprisingly advanced a commercial sports betting bill, only for it to fall a few votes short of passage. A typically conservative state politically, 2021’s push could spell another opportunity for legal wagering in 2022.
In the meantime the state’s Native American gaming tribes, which run North Dakota’s only brick-and-mortar gaming options, are moving toward their own sportsbooks. Legal sports betting at tribal gaming facilities could help lawmakers push commercial betting legislation at next year’s session.