What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time, legalized sports betting was still illegal for the most part, and many did not see that ever changing. Then came May 14 and the decision by the US Supreme Court to repeal that federal ban known as PASPA. The list of candidates for 2019 is at least a dozen states long, with a few more dark horses likely to show up in the mix. Let’s have a quick look around the map and see which states are headed to legalized sports betting in the New Year.
Arkansas is the only state in which a start to sports gambling is a guarantee in 2019. Voters in the state seized their chance during the November midterm elections, legalizing the activity via ballot measure. A casino-funded group called Driving Arkansas Forward spearheaded the initiative. And now that the people have spoken, the Arkansas Racing Commission is set to draft rules that will serve as the roadmap for the state’s industry. The agency will begin accepting applications for legal sports betting no later than June 1, 2019. The Arkansas governor, Asa Hutchinson, has not been a fan of the new law since the beginning but is not expected to intervene.
Our nation’s capital is the smallest and most recent addition to the list when a late-breaking bill worked through the city’s Council in December, now just a mayor’s signature away from full passage. Of note, lawmakers shunned an effort from the sponsor to include payment of an integrity fee. D.C. sports gambling will be conducted online via the lottery and through licensed retail venues, including the city’s stadiums and arenas. As of right now, the plan is to have legal sports betting up and running by baseball’s Opening Day of 2019. This would make the District the ninth US jurisdiction to allow legal wagering if the timeline holds.
New York actually has legal sports betting on the books under a 2013 voter referendum that won with broad support. That law led to the construction of four new commercial casinos while also authorizing them to operate retail sportsbooks. All four have opened for business, yet all have struggled financially out of the gate. Although the SCOTUS decision triggered that New York sports betting law, nothing has changed in the months since. NYS Gaming has not yet followed through on the directive to promulgate the required rules, and officials have been frustratingly quiet about progress. Lawmakers worked to provide more guidance with a handful of 2018 sports betting bills. However, none cleared both chambers. The landscape for 2019 is still coming into focus, and any optimism should be tempered.
Despite all of the support, New York is still lagging behind and hitting roadblocks on their way to legal sports betting. It’s easy to see, it will happen as the passion remains even with all the setbacks. Leading proponent and sponsor Sen. John Bonacic is retiring, leaving a vacancy atop his Committee on Racing, Gaming, and Wagering. That role will be filled by Sen. Joe Addabbo, who has already expressed plans to reintroduce Bonacic’s bill from last year. Assemblyman Gary Pretlow will reintroduce his own legislation in his chamber too.
Connecticut is another state with a partial law on the books. Legalization for the state goes back to July 2017 and was tied to the SCOTUS decision in this language from the CT sports betting law: “The Commissioner of Consumer Protection shall adopt regulations, in accordance with the provisions of chapter 54 of the general statutes, to regulate wagering on sporting events to the extent permitted by state and federal law.” Just as in New York, Connecticut regulators have not made progress toward implementing the existing laws. The situation there is as complicated as anywhere else, including a tribal gaming landscape, questions about online gambling, and a standing prohibition on sports betting within the constitution.
It looked as if things were coming together just before the 2018 session expired, so the odds of more progress in 2019 seem likely with the only hurdles to cross are (1) a repeal of the current sports betting prohibition and (2) the promulgation of rules. Both will require time but should happen sooner than not. Especially considering Connecticut and New York are in a race against each other.
Michigan vaulted itself close to the front of the queue for legal sports betting late in 2018. Lawmakers then were able to push through an online gambling bill the statehouse in the 11th hour, sending their proposal to the governor for signature. Rep. Brandt Iden admitted that lawmakers might have more work to do on the specifics but indicated that additional sports betting legislation would be his priority in 2019.