Recapping Busy Start for 2021 Sports Betting Legislation

Recapping Busy Start for 2021 Sports Betting Legislation article feature image
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Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images. Pictured: Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

A few weeks into 2021, lawmakers in more than a dozen states have already introduced sports betting legislation or have announced plans to do so.

Here’s a state-by-state recap of some of the most important such bills filed during a frantic start to the 2021 legislative session:

Georgia

A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the state House of Representatives introduced a mobile sports betting bill last week that would allow at least six individually branded online licenses under the purview of the state lottery.

Status: The bill has not been assigned yet to a committee but it is being championed by Rep. Ron Stephens, who chairs the House Economic Development & Tourism Committee. That means it should at least get a serious look.

Look Ahead: Georgia came surprisingly close to passing legal sports betting last year, backed by Republican fiscal conservatives and the state’s professional sports organizations. However, any gaming bill still faces opposition from religious and social conservative organizations and lawmakers. The back-and-forth between these factions of the GOP could determine sports betting’s 2021 hopes.

Connecticut

After years discussing legal sports betting, Connecticut finally seems on the verge of legal wagering legislation passing into law.

Status: A bipartisan, bicameral bill with 17 sponsors — and the backing of Gov. Ned Lamont — was filed last week and now awaits further action in the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Security.

Look Ahead: The bill offers few details beyond approving the state’s two gaming tribes to open retail and online sportsbooks, as well as online casinos (the state lottery would also be able to expand its offerings). Significant work is required before this bill could pass but the fact so many lawmakers are on board, as well as the tribes, gives online sports betting and casino gaming a great chance to pass, even if it looks like there may be limited wagering options.

Missouri

Lawmakers have already introduced six sports betting bills, meaning the Show Me State will once again consider legal wagering, even though significant logistical and political hurdles remain.

Status: Bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate but only one has been assigned to a committee.

Look Ahead: Missouri lawmakers must weigh sports betting against an ongoing legislative fight over video lottery terminals, which would have a far larger financial consequence than even online sportsbooks. Lawmakers must consider the casino industry interests while also determining if the state should regulate thousands of unlicensed “grey” gaming machines that are already in existence, legalizing new machines or banning them outright. They also will have to do so remotely, at least for this week; the 2021 legislative session has been suspended due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

Kentucky

Rep. Adam Koenig is once again spearheading mobile sports betting legislation, this time with 16 co-sponsors. But after a similar 2020 bill faltered following a promising start, this year’s legislative session leaves little wiggle room for what appears a long-shot effort.

Status: This year’s bill hasn’t been taken up by a committee yet but assuming it advances as its counterpart did in 2020, the real question remains if it will get a vote before the full House floor.

Look Ahead: Kentucky gaming bills always face tough odds in a state with strong anti-gambling sentiment but this year, lawmakers are more focused on restoring historic horse racing terminals — and, more so, a major budget crunch execrated by the COVID-19 pandemic. With an already truncated odd-numbered legislative session to begin with, sports betting may struggle to gain much traction in Frankfort.

New York

Assemblymember J. Gary Pretlow and Sen. Joseph Addabbo have introduced identical bills in their respective chambers that would allow up to 14 online mobile operators as well as betting kiosks at professional sports stadiums and off-track betting venues

Status: Both bills could see votes in their respective gaming committees as early as this week, but that vote isn’t as important as a budget proposal expected from Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the coming days.

Look Ahead: Cuomo surprised the gaming world earlier this month when he came out in support of legal online wagering but just as quickly angered stakeholders when he said he wanted only one operator. A press statement released last week indicated the governor may support a multi-operator model, but it will have to come with the backing of lawmakers already looking to advance a proposal of their own. The fate of New York online betting depends on finding an agreement on either a multiple operator or single operator model. Cuomo’s draft budget could go a long way toward that solution.

South Dakota

After voters backed a 2020 ballot measure to legalize sports betting last fall, lawmakers introduced follow-up legislation in January that would lay out key regulatory and taxation details for retail sportsbooks in the historic gaming town of Deadwood, as well as Native American casinos.

Status: The bill in South Dakota has been assigned to the Senate State Affairs Committee and could be discussed as early as this month.

Look Ahead: Passing a retail sports betting bill seems like a safe bet in 2021. Online sports betting is the bigger question. Though gaming is only allowed in Deadwood, some mobile betting backers believe online wagering could be permitted statewide if the computer servers are physically within Deadwood limits. Though it would mean far larger revenue potential, it’s a logistically, politically and possibly legally more difficult endeavor, and the initial bill’s lack of mobile betting authorization indicates it may not even be considered in this year’s session.

Massachusetts

Lawmakers discussed a handful of sports betting bills in 2020, including one sponsored by Gov. Charlie Baker, but elected officials couldn’t reach consensus despite bipartisan support. The General Court is set to take up wagering bills again in 2021, but some of the logistical hurdles remain.

Status: Rep. Bradford Hill introduced a trio of mobile sports wagering bills last week, and more are set to follow in the Senate (and possibly the House). With the state’s year-long session just beginning, additional legislation to follow and more pressing budget concerns to consider, it could be a while before these specific proposals see much momentum.

Look Ahead: Massachusetts, which has increasingly embraced gaming in recent years as competition for gambling dollars grows in other New England states, has frustrated the sports betting industry with its failure to advance legal wagering despite the latent political support. With statewide, legal wagering already in Rhode Island and New Hampshire (and likely in Connecticut) there’s more motivation than ever to pass a bill. Politicians still must work out operator access, college betting legality and a host of other issues they’ve struggled to reach consensus on in recent years.

Other States

Several more are poised to introduce sports betting legislation in the coming weeks, while others with legal wagering already are working on growing their betting options.

Legislation Pending: Maryland is all but guaranteed to take up fleshed-out legislation later this year after voters overwhelmingly backed a 2020 referendum that legalized sports betting. Texas, Minnesota and Arizona are among the next wave of states that could also see legal sports betting bills in 2021.

Expanded Options: Officials in Oregon, Washington and Virginia have filed bills that would increase the number of legal sportsbooks in their respective states. Additional sports betting bills could face political obstacles, but it’s nevertheless a sign of political interest for expanded markets.

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