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7 States to Watch for Sports Betting Legalization in 2021

7 States to Watch for Sports Betting Legalization in 2021 article feature image

Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images. Pictured: Andrew Cuomo and a New York Islanders hat

Virginia and Washington legalized sports betting bills in 2020 while Maryland, Louisiana and South Dakota approved ballot measures that could bring legal wagering as early as 2021.

Heading into the new year, at least a dozen states are expected to take up sports betting legislation — some with existing retail betting with eyes on online expansion, and others with no sports gambling at all yet.

Here are seven states to watch in 2021:

New York: Sports betting is already legal in New York but only at retail sportsbooks, which have combined for only a few million dollars in revenue since wagering began last year. Legalizing statewide mobile wagering could help position New York as the nation’s most lucrative market.

Home to the nation’s largest metro area and fourth-largest population overall, New York will, once again, be a major focal point for legalization efforts in 2021. Statewide mobile legislation has faltered in the legislature each of the past two years, but facing a multibillion-dollar budget shortfall, elected officials may finally have enough political momentum to pass an online betting bill.

Connecticut: Connecticut may be the most likely state to approve legal betting, with some lawmakers already claiming it’s all but a done deal. The state’s two casinos already have sports betting deals in place ahead of a possible legislation effort and it appears politicians and gaming stakeholders are on the same page for what a potential legal market would look like.

As officials seem closer than ever to a deal, the biggest question may be the number of operators allowed to enter the state. Foxwoods and the Mohegan Sun casinos may be content to only allow one mobile sportsbook apiece, but this could shut out many of the nation’s top sports betting brands and hinder the market’s revenue potential.

Massachusetts: It seemed Massachusetts would join Rhode Island and New Hampshire this year among the ranks of New England states with legal betting, but legislation fell short again in 2020. Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and the Democratic-controlled legislature are both on board, but there are still key details that have not been resolved.

Among those is the legalization of betting on college sports, which has been opposed by the state’s Division I universities. Additionally, Massachusetts casinos may also try to limit operators to themselves. Support remains for legal wagering, but until these key issues are resolved, it could be another lost year for legal betting.

Ohio: Ohio was another state that entered 2020 with seemingly strong odds for legal sports betting. A bill passed the House in May, but was never taken up by the Senate, which also failed to advance a sports betting bill of its own.

Elected officials are again supportive of legalization efforts, but key questions such as how many licenses will be available and which body will regulate potential sportsbooks need to be answered. What is known is that statewide mobile wagering will be legal in neighboring Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania and West Virginia once the 2021 session begins.

Missouri: Three sports betting bills have already been filed for the 2021 session, coming off a 2020 session when multiple proposals were also introduced. Sports betting hopes were dashed when the COVID-19 pandemic curtailed this year’s legislative session but baring another unforeseen development, it appears legalization will be another topic of conversation in the statehouse.

As with all other states, officials will still have to agree on key issues such as tax rates. But with Republicans in the GOP-dominated legislature already onboard, it appears there’s a good chance some sort of retail and mobile betting options will be approved in Missouri next year.

Arizona: Though statewide mobile betting may not be imminent, Arizona could be another state with legal wagering as early as 2021. The state’s Native American casino operators and elected officials have floated a tribal-only path to legalization in recent years and indications are another legislative proposal is in the works.

A retail-only market would mean less revenue for operators and state coffers, but it could be the easiest path to any legal betting options in Arizona. A successful brick-and-mortar market could spark interest in online options down the road in a state with a growing population and a franchise in all four major professional U.S. sports leagues.

Texas: Arguably the longest odds of any state in this group, Texas has shown signs that legal sports betting could be a possibility. Casino companies such as Las Vegas Sands have already hired lobbyists ahead of the 2021 session to push for the state’s first commercial casinos and there could be more interest than ever in Austin as Texas faces a budget shortfall of its own.

While sports betting faces steep political headwinds in a state without many existing gaming options, it will remain an intriguing possibility in the nation’s second-most populated state.

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