West Virginia is the only state with a new sports gambling law so far
Legal Sports Report

More Sports Betting Laws In 2018? Some Legislative Calendars Are Getting Short As Bills Are Left Hanging

sports betting bills left hanging

With a few months of work behind them, lawmakers in most states are approaching the end of their legislative sessions. Some capitols have already gone quiet for the year.

It’s been quite a session for those following sports betting. Sudden movement at the federal level spawned a wave of sports betting bills in 2018, spanning much of the eastern US. For varying reasons (consumer protection, tax revenue, fear of missing out), almost 20 states considered legislation. One of them even passed a new law.

The issue is still very much undecided, though. The US Supreme Court hasn’t ruled on the New Jersey sports betting case, so the federal ban remains in place. States will need the court to repeal PASPA in order to offer sports betting within their borders.

By the time a decision is handed down, only a handful of them may have time to act.

Already adjourned

These four legislatures have already adjourned for the year:

  • West Virginia (March 10)
  • Indiana (March 14)
  • Mississippi (March 28)
  • Maryland (April 9)

West Virginia lawmakers are home after what many would consider a job well done on sports betting.

The Mountain State is the only one to pass a new law so far in 2018, with the issue making quick progress through the statehouse. The new WV sports betting template was subsequently held up as a model in other states, but more work may still be needed.

Gov. Jim Justice did not sign the bill, instead letting it lapse into law by inaction. Apparently being prodded by professional sports leagues, Justice said he wants to call a special session to revisit the specifics. Lawmakers have expressed no such desire, though, so it’s unlikely to materialize unless something changes.

Indiana is another interesting case. The legislature adjourned with several key issues undecided, so there are already rumblings of a special session. Although sports betting is unlikely to appear on a bonus calendar, it could get a look if Murphy vs. NCAA is decided in the meantime. Bills are on file in both chambers.

Meanwhile, efforts in Mississippi and Maryland are officially dead. Those statehouses have already adjourned, and no legislation will carry over from this session. Mississippi regulators have said they already have the power to act on sports betting, however.

Kansas technically starts a veto session on April 26, but it does not appear likely sports betting will be a part of that.

Upcoming adjournments

These states have deadlines approaching over the coming weeks and months:

  • Kentucky (April 14)
  • Iowa (April 17)
  • Kansas (veto session starts April 26)
  • Connecticut (May 9)
  • South Carolina (May 10)
  • Missouri (May 18)
  • Oklahoma (May 25)
  • Louisiana (June 4)
  • Rhode Island (June 30)

Some of these states will barely scratch the surface of sports betting before leaving the capitol.

Oklahoma, for example, already amended “sports pool” language out of its only relevant bill. A replacement could still appear this session, but time is running thin and that seems like an unlikely scenario. Kentucky has made modest efforts for the last two years without any progress to show for it; a bill has yet to clear a committee.

A House bill in Iowa is making slow headway, but it has yet to reach the floor. Lawmakers won’t get paid beyond next Tuesday, which doesn’t seem to be enough time, although the session may be extended. And the issue of sports betting is still on some of their minds.

In Kansas, there has been a lot of debate in recent months, but some lawmakers want to pump the brakes on sports betting. A bill could be passed during the upcoming veto session.

Connecticut has spent as much time on the issue as any state this year. Lawmakers and stakeholders there engaged in a series of hearings, educating each other and hashing out the logistics at length. There are a lot of mouths to feed, including tribal casinos and the lottery, but it seemed like folks were starting to align.

This week, though, House leaders indicated the efforts for 2018 are all but dead, tangled up amid broader gaming issues.

Missouri is also worth a mention, leading all states with six sports betting bills on file. There’s an appetite for legislation, and there’s no shortage of proposals from which to choose. Bills are moving in both chambers, with one in the Senate recently advancing onto the floor calendar. And there’s still more than a month of legislation left, enough time for progress.

Like Connecticut, however, Missouri lawmakers are pessimistic about the timeline.

Staying in session

These four states either remain in session throughout the spring or have sliding dates for adjournment:

  • Illinois
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • New York

Let’s start in Illinois, where there are five sports betting bills on file. The good news is that they’re all different, so they can be laid on the table together for comparison. The bad news, though, is that they’re all different. Each of them takes a unique approach to legalization and regulation, and none of them are likely to appease all parties.

The conversation is further complicated by the presence of the professional sports leagues. All four of them — MLB, NBA, NFL, and NHL — have franchises in Illinois, and the NBA and MLB are actively lobbying for legislation. One of the bills, the one from Sen. Napoleon Harris, was introduced under their proposed model.

Similar themes are present throughout in this category, in fact. All four states have elite sports cities within their borders, each home to franchises in all four sports. League lobbyists are on the payroll in three of them, and a league-model bill has appeared in two. Massachusetts is just studying the issue for now, and carryover bills in Michigan have yet to be considered in 2018.

Most of the other states will drop off the page over the next few weeks, so it may be up to this group to carry the dialogue forward. Expect New York and Illinois, in particular, to set the tone for the industry in the immediate future. NY is also considering the legalization of poker sites in the state.

Eric Ramsey
- Eric is a reporter and writer covering regulated US gambling, sports betting, and DFS. He comes from a poker background, formerly on staff at PokerNews and the World Poker Tour.