Where Sports Betting Bills in 8 Key States Stand After First Month of 2021
Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images. Pictured: The Massachusetts State House
More than 20 states have already introduced sports betting bills in their respective 2021 legislative sessions and more are set to follow in the weeks to come. Here is a non-exhaustive update of legislation in eight high-profile sports betting prospects and what to expect next:
The single most-watched online sports betting bills of the 2021 session have already taken one key step forward, but it remains to be seen when — or if — that journey will continue.
- Major Bills Introduced: Two (one Assembly, one Senate)
- Next Move: Assembly Committee on Codes (No hearing scheduled); Senate Finance Committee (No hearing scheduled)
- Overview: Lawmakers in both the Assembly and Senate have advanced identical statewide mobile sports betting bills out of their respective chambers’ gaming committees, but both may have to wait until Gov. Andrew Cuomo either gives his blessing or advances his own proposal. The governor’s ideas for online sports betting, specifically a limited or single-operator model, would be very different than the proposals already in the legislature.
Lawmakers are methodically working through the essential follow-up legislation after voters overwhelmingly approved sports betting on the 2020 ballot in November.
- Major Bills Introduced: One (Senate)
- Next Move: The lone substantial bill introduced so far, which merely allocates an online wagering license to the Maryland State Fairgrounds, has already had one hearing. It may not move further until the larger bill materializes.
- Overview: Lawmakers nearly passed a more comprehensive sports betting bill ahead of the 2020 election, but a curtailed legislative session that year forced officials back to square one. There seems little doubt Maryland will pass an online sports betting bill this year, though lawmakers will still need to introduce (and pass) a vehicle with key regulatory, taxation and implementation details.
Arguably the busiest state for 2021 sports betting legislation, Missouri is still weighing legal sportsbooks against the prospect of video lottery terminals.
- Major Bills Introduced: Six (three House, three Senate)
- Next Move: Two of the Senate bills are set for a committee hearing Tuesday. There has been no action scheduled for the other four.
- Overview: Missouri’s flurry of sports betting activity has it among the most-watched legislatures in 2021 even as it faces difficult political realities. Though the state’s 13 casinos support mobile wagering, they are more concerned about the potential legalization of video lottery terminals. The casinos fear the VLTs would be a far greater financial drain than sports betting would be a benefit and the back-and-forth between the two interests could tank legalization fears for both.
After years of negotiations, Connecticut’s politicians and its two gaming tribes seem on the verge of a breakthrough even as a wave of new bills could tug state gaming interests in a variety of directions.
- Major Bills Introduced: Five (one House, four Senate)
- Next Move: All five are awaiting further action in their respective chamber’s Public Safety and Security Committee
- Overview: Connecticut sports betting backers were optimistic heading into the 2021 session after Gov. Ned Lamont and the Mashantucket Pequot, as well as Mohegan Tribes, seemed to find a solution that would allow mobile wagering in the state. To do so, the legislature must balance the tribes’ interests with a host of other gaming issues, such as online casino gaming, lottery ticket sales and keno that have been proposed by lawmakers, as well as a bill that would allow the tribes to open a new casino in Bridgeport. Public comments are a positive step forward, but elected officials and state gaming stakeholders must first navigate a solution among a complex array of gambling interests.
Not be outdone by its New England neighbor, Massachusetts has introduced an avalanche of its own sports betting bills. Proponents hope one of these can finally pass into law
- Major Bills Introduced: Five (three House, two Senate)
- Next Move: The bills are still awaiting further action in committee
- Overview: Several top Democrats in the legislature and Republican Gov. Charlie Baker have once again introduced a set of sports betting bills. Officials still face challenges such as license count, college betting legality and a host of other issues that have shuttered previous efforts despite bipartisan support.
Major political obstacles stand in the way, but Texas seems poised to at least seriously consider some sort of sizeable gaming expansion for the first time in decades.
- Major Bills Introduced: Four (two House, two House joint resolutions)
- Next Move: The two house bills and their accompanying House joint resolutions (which would place a constitutional amendment question on the 2022 ballot) are awaiting further action in committee
- Overview: Elected officials, national gaming stakeholders and the state’s professional sports owners are considering legal sports betting and potentially even brick-and-mortar casinos in the 2021 session. More legislation is expected, including a more detailed picture on any possible new Texas gaming options, though it still faces major political obstacles in a state that hasn’t expanded gaming since a government-run lottery in the 1990s.
Another of the last remaining casino holdouts seems to have a chance for legal sports betting in 2021.
- Major Bills Introduced: Two (both House)
- Next Move: Both are awaiting further action in the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee
- Overview: Legal sports betting seems to have new life in Georgia despite the state’s conservative political leanings at the state level. Republican supporters behind two bills, one that would approve sports betting through the lottery and the other that would allow commercial casinos, are hoping the economic benefits of regulated wagering, as well as the public support from the state’s leading professional sports organizations, could help their proposals pass into law this year.
Politics, logistics and timing could once again derail Kentucky sports betting hopes
- Major Bills Introduced: One (House)
- Next Move: The bill is awaiting further action in the House Committee on Committees
- Overview: Already facing political headwinds in one of the nation’s most politically conservative states, Kentucky’s 2021 sports betting hopes could be sidelined in part because of the commonwealth’s limited appetite for gambling. State political leaders are scrambling to restore the state’s historic horse racing industry after the Kentucky Supreme Court deemed the games illegal last year. This threatens to diminish the already limited political capital available for something as controversial in Kentucky as sports gambling. Combined with the already curtailed odd-numbered year legislative sessions and it appears sports betting may not be able to cross the 2021 finish line.