Sports Betting Legalization: 4 States With Longshot Hopes for 2021

Sports Betting Legalization: 4 States With Longshot Hopes for 2021 article feature image
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Sean Rayford/Getty Images. Pictured South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster.

Nearly every state has either approved sports betting or has filed a 2021 bill to do so.

While much of the gaming industry turns its attention to New York’s online sports betting legalization efforts, along with wagering bills in other high-profile targets such as Massachusetts, Maryland and Arizona, several longshot hopefuls are also considering bills.

Here are where several stand after the first month-plus of 2021 and what may come next:

Alabama

One of the last remaining states without a lottery, Alabama may be the closest “longshot” to legal sports betting.

Lawmakers have introduced legislation that would not only allow sports bets, but also create the state’s first commercial casinos, as well as a government-run lottery. A seeming non-starter in one of the most culturally conservative and gaming antagonistic states, the proposal is at least treading water in the legislature and could get a positive vote as early as March.

A Senate bill that would allow all these gaming forms was advanced favorably out of committee this week. A vote before the full Senate could come after the legislature’s week-long break ends Feb. 19.

From there, the path forward becomes more difficult.

Even if passed by the Senate, there is no guarantee the House would follow suit — or even get it to a full floor vote. Additionally, the bill requires two-thirds supermajority support to pass.

If passed by both chambers, and assuming it’s signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivy, it would still need approval from voters on the 2022 ballot. Voters in other conservative states such as South Dakota and Louisiana have largely supported gaming expansion referendums in recent years, but casinos, sportsbooks and a lottery could face a tougher environment in Alabama.

A recent study showing millions in new revenues for legal Alabama gaming, plus shifting attitudes nationwide, have given the state its best odds yet for the first significant gaming expansion in its history. A legal Alabama sportsbook, casino or lottery ticket is still no sure bet.

Minnesota

Minnesota lawmakers have failed to pass a legal online sports bill in recent legislative sessions. Odds are not much better in 2021.

The state’s Native American gaming tribes vehemently opposes any betting outside their reservations, including sports bets placed from mobile devices. The larger economic driver for many tribes and their surrounding communities, mobile betting opponents fear this could take away in-person visitation to tribal casinos and deplete money spent on far more lucrative options such as slot machines.

Without the support of Minnesota’s 11 gaming tribes, which operate the state’s 19 casinos, sports betting won’t likely go far.

Sports betting backers are hoping a 2021 bill that would only allow on-reservation betting through its first year could garner tribal support. However, the latest bill allows online betting after the first year, a non-starter for Minnesota gaming tribes.

South Carolina

Legislation filed earlier this year would allow South Carolina voters to approve brick-and-mortar casinos and sportsbooks. They’re unlikely to get that vote.

South Carolina’s conservative legislature is not likely to consider its first major gaming expansion since 2002, when it became one of the most recent states to approve a government-sanctioned lottery. The Palmetto State’s anti-gambling laws are among the nation’s strictest, and for a time it even precluded senior citizens from playing recreational poker games in their own homes.

Neither a House or Senate gaming expansion bill has been taken up since both were referred to committee last month. They may both linger there without a vote until the session expires.

In the unlikely chance lawmakers pass either bill, it could still face Gov. Henry McMasters’ veto pen. Unlike Ivy, McMasters’ fellow Republican governor who at least seems open to gaming expansion, McMaster is an aggressive gambling opponent. One of former President Donald Trump’s earliest supporters and a staunch conservative, McMaster seems highly unlikely to embrace sports betting (or any other gaming form).

Hawaii

Hawaii’s long gambling aversion will likely continue.

A proposal to create Hawaii’s state lottery as well as its first casino are unlikely to gain much traction, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports. Officials said the time “is not right” to consider gaming, where it remains controversial despite Hawaiian’s affinity for the gambling capital of America.

Assuming no further action, Hawaii will remain with Utah as the only states that ban every form of gambling.