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Sports Betting on the Ballot in Maryland, Louisiana, South Dakota: Everything You Need to Know

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Nathan Howard/Getty Images.

Legal sports betting is in the hands of voters in three states on Election Day:

Click the links above to read more about each state.

While the ballot measures could pass in all three states, what sports betting looks like in each state would be determined by legislators in the following months — most importantly, whether or not online betting is allowed.


Maryland

The 2020 election will allow Maryland voters to legalize sports betting.

It’s the last remaining state in the area without legal wagering, as other mid-Atlantic states like New Jersey and Pennsylvania have been among the early revenue leaders in the U.S. market.

Gaming stakeholders have spent millions of dollars to support the “yes” vote on Maryland Question 2, also known as the “Sports Betting Measure,” but polling shows it could be a close vote.

Here’s everything Maryland voters need to know about the question on their ballots and what to expect in the coming election.

[Sports Betting Legalization Map]

What Is Maryland Question 2?

Maryland voters will see the following on their election ballot under Question 2:

Do you approve the expansion of commercial gaming in the State of Maryland to authorize sports and events betting for the primary purpose of raising revenue for education?

“The expansion of commercial gaming in the State of Maryland to authorize sports and events betting” is required to amend the state constitution, which currently prohibits sports gambling. A majority of 2020 voters must vote “yes” or sports betting remains illegal.

The second clause refers to how gambling tax dollars would be spent if legalized. Legislation that put the referendum on the 2020 ballot specifically directs that sports wagering taxes must be primarily put toward funding public education.

When Would Sports Betting Begin?

If approved in November, Maryland legal sports betting would likely begin sometime in 2021, though elected officials will still need to pass critical follow-up legislation that answers things like:

  • How many operators can enter the state
  • Whether or not online betting will be legal (which does seem like a safe bet)
  • How the operators would be regulated

Maryland lawmakers worked on a comprehensive bill earlier this year that would work through many of those questions until the COVID-19 pandemic curtailed the 2020 legislative session. Legislators agreed instead to a streamlined bill that placed the referendum question needed to amend the state constitution but left unanswered most other crucial elements of regulated sports betting.

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Lawmakers were still working through these questions before the 2020 session ended, but bettors should expect, at the very least, retail sportsbooks at the state’s six commercial casinos. Elected officials also seem inclined to support sportsbooks at several state horse tracks.

Statewide mobile betting also seems like a safe bet. Online betting makes up as much as 90% of betting handle in other regional sports betting markets such as Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Elected officials seemed to largely support online betting during discussions earlier this year.

Legislators will also have to determine how many online licenses, or “skins,” would be available. Industry stakeholders have pushed for a large skin total, pointing to other successful markets such as New Jersey and Colorado, which both allow more than 30 skins.

At a minimum, Maryland bettors should expect at least eight or nine skins between the casinos and horse tracks.

Will the Maryland Sports Betting Question Pass?

Ballot measure questions are difficult to predict, especially those involving controversial subjects such as legal gambling, but most key factors are pointing toward passage.

Campaign spending is entirely in favor of Question 2, with supporters raising close to $3 million and organized opposition groups reporting $0. DraftKings and FanDuel have already contributed $1.5 million and $250,000 in cash contributions, respectively. Three state casinos have combined to chip in more than $50,000 for the “yes” campaign.

The funds have gone in part toward an ad campaign that highlights revenues toward educational purposes from sports betting taxes. Lawmakers from both parties in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly have also publicly supported Question 2, as has Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

Polling has been limited, but a February poll showed only 47% support for legal sports betting with 43% opposition. That came before Maryland formalized the ballot measure — and COVID-19 altered the state’s education funding — so it remains to be seen how well the poll holds up presently.

That poll also came before neighboring Virginia passed its sports betting bill and Washington D.C. opened its first retail and digital sportsbooks. Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey already offer legal sports betting, meaning Maryland will remain the only Mid-Atlantic state without wagering if voters reject Question 2.

The reality that Marylanders will either cross into a neighboring state or continue with unlicensed bookmakers or offshore betting sites to place a wager is one of supporters’ strongest arguments for the ballot question.

Even for those disinclined to patronize or even support a legal sportsbook, the amendment is the only way to keep sports betting tax dollars in-state.


Louisiana

Louisiana voters will be able to approve legal sports betting within their home parish this fall.

Louisiana will be the first to ask voters to approve sports betting at the local level instead of statewide. Most parishes, especially those with one or more of the state’s nearly two dozen casinos, will likely approve wagering, but lawmakers will still need to solve critical issues such as operator access and mobile wagering in 2021.

Here’s all that Louisiana voters should know about legal sports betting on the 2020 ballot.

[Sports Betting Legalization Map]

What is the Louisiana Sports Betting Parish Measure?

Louisiana voters in all 64 parishes will see the following on their 2020 ballots:

Shall sports wagering activities and operations be permitted in the parish of (individual parish name)?

The Louisiana constitution restricts certain forms of gambling, but allows parish-level voter referendums on specific gaming expansions if approved by a majority of both houses of the legislature and the governor. Lawmakers in the Republican-controlled legislature overwhelmingly supported the sports betting referendum and Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards approved it for the 2020 ballot.

The legislation behind the referendum did little to explain sports betting beyond placing it on the ballot and granting oversight to the Louisiana Gaming Control Board, which already regulates the state’s casinos. A “yes” vote means sports betting could be “permitted” within that parish; a “no” vote means there can be no legal “sports wagering activities” within parish lines.

When Would Sports Betting Begin?

In a best-case scenario, the first legal bet will be placed sometime in the second half of 2021. A more likely scenario is 2022.

Louisiana lawmakers must pass follow-up legislation that answers how sports betting will be conducted in parishes that vote “yes.” The 2021 session isn’t set to begin until April, the latest of any state legislature meeting next year. However, that late start is a small factor in what could be a difficult legislative process.

Despite its more than 20 casinos and thousands of video poker machines, regulated gambling is still controversial in much of Louisiana, where conservative and religious groups opposed to all gaming forms still have considerable influence in the legislature. After a 2019 sports betting bill died short of legalization, lawmakers in 2020 were more amenable to allowing voters to decide if they wanted legal sports wagering, then deal with the follow up in 2021.

Many of the issues that tanked the 2019 legislation will remain in 2021.

In addition to a contingent of lawmakers opposed to any type of legal gaming, there are stark divides over which entities can offer these games. The casinos and horse tracks have found themselves opposed to the video poker terminal operators, which oversee thousands of such games spread across bars and truck stops throughout the state.

Voters in 47 of the state’s 64 parishes approved daily fantasy games via a similar process as this year’s sports betting ballot measure, but lawmakers failed to pass the needed regulatory legislation until late in 2020.  Video poker supporters pushed to amend the DFS legislation so the machines could offer daily fantasy games, which helped tank both the DFS tax bill and sports betting legalization efforts.

The casinos and horse tracks are among the most high-profile support of legal sports betting, but would undoubtedly oppose any effort to expand wagering to the terminals. It remains to be seen if video-poker supports will push for single-game sports betting, but it could delay or derail legislative efforts next year.

Another possible sticking point is online access.

Mobile wagering makes up the vast majority of total handle in mature markets such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Leading online sportsbook operators such as DraftKings and FanDuel, which supported the 2018 DFS measure and have each contributed $250,000 to the 2020 sports betting question, would undoubtedly push for full mobile wagering in each parish that approves the ballot question.

However, this could dissuade the legislature’s gambling skeptics, who could tolerate retail sportsbooks at licensed casinos in approved parishes, but couldn’t stomach online sports betting.

Even if these concerns don’t play out and sports betting sees a smoother legislative process in 2021 than in other sessions, the slow nature of any legislation, and the likely six or more months it would take for regulators to approve any new sports betting operators, means late 2021 would probably be the earliest launch for the first legal Louisiana sportsbook.

Will the Louisiana Sports Betting Question Pass?

It’s safe to say that some form of sports betting will be legal in Louisiana.

Roughly two-thirds of parishes supported daily fantasy legalization in 2018, including the 10-most populated, and all seem a safe bet voters there will support legal wagering in 2020. Furthermore, it seems improbable that residents in parishes with casinos, including Orleans (New Orleans), Bossier (Bossier City), Calcasieu (Lake Charles), Caddo (Shreveport) and East Baton Rouge (Baton Rouge), would oppose legalized sports betting.

Leading up to the election, supporters have also broadcast pro sports betting ads during football games and online. Along with the $500,000 in combined contributions from DraftKings and FanDuel, sports betting operators Boyd Gaming, Penn National and Caesars have given an additional $625,000 in total donations to Louisiana Wins, a sports-betting support political-action committee. Opposition groups have reported $0.

The parish-by-parish vote all but guarantees sports betting will be legal somewhere in Louisiana after the Nov. 3 ballot results are announced. The bigger issue is how (or even if) online sports betting will be legal in parishes that vote “yes,” and when those residents will be able to place a legal bet.


South Dakota

Sports betting could become legal in South Dakota if voters approve a constitutional amendment this fall.

If a majority of voters approve Amendment B, sports betting would be legal in the city of Deadwood as well as the state’s Native American gaming facilities. The prospects for the amendment’s passage — and a larger question about the future of statewide mobile gaming — are still uncertain.

Here’s everything else South Dakota voters need to know about sports betting on this fall’s ballot.

[Sports Betting Legalization Map]

What is the South Dakota Constitutional Amendment B?

South Dakota’s constitution restricts gambling but authorizes the state legislature to allow certain types of games in Deadwood, a small, historic gaming town in the western part of the state. The current list includes roulette, keno, craps, some types of card games and slot machines. “Amendment B” would expand this list to include wagering on sports.

Additionally, federal law mandates that any gaming option approved by the legislature is also allowed at any on-reservation tribal casino if the tribes choose to offer the game and reach an agreement with the state to do so.

This means that if a majority of voters approve Amendment B, the roughly 20 Deadwood commercial gaming entities and the state’s nine Native American casinos would be eligible to take sports bets at their facilities.

When Would Sports Betting Begin?

If approved, legal sports betting likely wouldn’t begin until sometime in second half of 2021.

The 2020 ballot measure simply amends the state constitution; lawmakers would still need to pass legislation that authorizes, regulates and taxes sports betting. State officials would then need to promulgate rules and license operators, a process that could take six or more months after a sports betting bill is passed into law.

Crucially, lawmakers would also have to determine how or if online sports betting would operate.

The constitutional amendment would only allow wagering in Deadwood (and, because of federal statutes, federally recognized tribes), but it doesn’t clarify the fate of online wagering. Sports betting backers are hoping that statewide mobile sports betting can be allowed if the wagering originates on computer servers in Deadwood.

How that argument plays in the legislature will be a major question next year if voters approve sports betting in 2020.

Gambling outside Deadwood remains controversial in South Dakota, one of the nation’s most politically and culturally conservative states. Gambling skeptics in the overwhelmingly Republican state legislature may be amenable to another gaming form in a city where legal gambling already exists. Legal wagering anywhere within states lines could be a far more difficult political challenge.

Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images. Pictured: People are reflected in a casino window in downtown Deadwood, South Dakota.

Online wagering makes up as much as 90% of betting handle in mature markets such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania, meaning supporters would be inclined to push for statewide mobile betting, especially in a state as vast and sparsely populated as South Dakota.

Still, even if backers gain the political support for statewide mobile wagering, the legality of online betting will likely be a legal target of opponents in the courts.

If the amendment passes, bettors could have more than 20 retail sportsbooks to choose from in Deadwood alone, assuming lawmakers and regulators permit each casino an individual license, plus up to nine more sports betting options at tribal gaming centers throughout the state.

An online license for each gaming facility would give South Dakota as many as 30 statewide mobile options, one of the highest totals in the country. It’s also possible a successful amendment could still mean zero legal online sportsbooks in South Dakota.

Will South Dakota Approve Sports Betting?

The fate of South Dakota sports betting is hard to handicap.

Though amendment backers are outwardly positive, there has been little publicly available polling. With the nation’s fifth-smallest population, there has been minimal nationwide attention paid to South Dakota’s ballot measure, especially with online wagering far from a certainty even if the measure does pass.

Leading sportsbook operators such as DraftKings, FanDuel, Penn National and Caesars have combined for several million dollars of contributions for similar ballot measures in Maryland and Louisiana. In South Dakota, they’ve contributed $0.

Politicians in the deeply Republican state are also divided.

GOP state Sen. Bob Ewing, who sponsored the resolution that placed the measure on the 2020 ballot, championed sports betting as a chance to keep up with other states that allow wagering, including neighboring Iowa and Montana. Writing for a ballot question pamphlet published by the secretary of state’s office, Ewing wrote the amendment will generate new tax revenues for Deadwood and the rest of the state.

In that same pamphlet, Speaker of the House Steve Haugaard, a fellow Republican, decried sports betting as a “stumbling block” that will fuel gambling addiction.

Industry analysis groups project South Dakotans, as with residents of the other 49 states, are already gambling on sports illegally through unlicensed bookmakers or unregulated offshore sites. The chance to wager legally could bolster “yes” voters, but the anti-gambling sentiment from state political leaders underscores the challenges retail (and possibly online) sports betting expansion faces.

Voters approved expanded gaming options at Deadwood casinos by a 56.7% to 43.3% margin in 2014, but it remains to be seen if they will support sports betting in 2020.

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