Sports Betting Legalization Halftime Report: 4 States With 2021 Hopes

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Andrew Weber/Getty Images. Pictured: Brutus Buckeye.

Four state legislatures still in session are considering sports betting legalization bills.

Here’s where this quartet stands heading into the second half of 2021.

Ohio

After months of legislative hearings, the Ohio state Senate passed an online and retail sports betting bill June 24 with hopes the House would follow suit by June 30. Instead, no vote was taken and lawmakers aren’t set to reconsider the bill until this fall.

Lawmakers are still working through license allocation between the state’s casinos and professional sports entities, as well as bars, restaurants and fraternal organizations. Though policymakers largely support legal wagering, the market structure has stalled previous years’ legalization efforts, as well as the 2021 bill.

Still, elected officials are optimistic they can reach consensus on a bill that appeases both politicians and would-be sports betting stakeholders when they return from a scheduled summer recess.

If approved this fall, one of the nation’s most populated states could see legal wagering before the 2022 football season.

Massachusetts

Massachusetts lawmakers have introduced several dozen sports betting bills the past two years. None have gained serious traction in the legislature.

Backed by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker (who sponsored his own sports betting bill) and Democrats in the General Court, sports betting still remains controversial. College betting proposals are opposed by the commonwealth’s high-profile universities, and policymakers are still wary of legal wagering on ostensibly amateur events in the home of the Boston College point-shaving scandal of the 1970’s.

College betting is just one piece of a complex puzzle being battled between Massachusetts’ high-profile gaming interests. Massachusetts casino operators MGM, Wynn and Penn National as well as Boston-based DraftKings have all pushed for legal wagering — and a market that limits additional competition.

These divisions, among other factors, partially explain the long-stalled sports betting legalization effort.

Maine

A year and a half after Gov. Janet Mills vetoed her state’s sports betting legalization bill, Maine is on the precipice of sending a new bill to her desk. Her signature is no sure bet.

The newest bill tethers mobile sportsbooks to the state’s gaming facilities, a move sports betting backers home will appease stakeholder concerns. But Mills, who has questioned previous legal gaming measures and recently vetoed a bill that would have given state tribes expanded gaming options, may very well oppose this new incarnation.

In the meantime, the bill is nearing final perfunctory votes to pass out of the legislature with bipartisan support. Lawmakers may be able to overturn the veto, which they nearly did for the prior sports betting bill in January 2020, but Mills remains the biggest possible roadblock to legal wagering in Maine.

North Carolina

North Carolina’s retail sports betting bill passed the state legislature with relative ease and bipartisan support. A statewide mobile proposal has not gained nearly as much traction.

Companion House and Senate bills to permit online sportsbooks have lingered in their respective chambers for months. Though backers are optimistic their legislation will build momentum, especially after neighboring Tennessee and Virginia launched mobile markets of their own, gaming measures remain controversial in North Carolina.

The retail bill, which only permitted brick-and-mortar sportsbooks at tribal gaming facilities, was far less politically controversial. Getting gambling-averse Republicans in the GOP-controlled General Assembly to support betting from smartphones statewide remains a much tougher political haul.

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