Arkansas is certain, everything else is up in the air
Legal Sports Report

Who’s Got Next? Here Are The Top Candidates To Start Legal Sports Betting In 2019

legal sports betting

This time last year, there really was no “list” of states on the verge of legal sports betting. The activity was, of course, still illegal at the federal level, minus a few narrow exemptions.

Then came May 14 and the decision by the US Supreme Court to repeal that federal ban known as PASPA.

How quickly things changed. The list of candidates for 2019 is at least a dozen states long, with a few more surprises likely to creep into the mix.

As the calendar ticks over to a new year, now seems like a good time to skim across the US landscape. We start our 2019 preview with states already possessing some form of sports betting law on the books.

On the cusp of legal sports betting

A quartet of states (and one jurisdiction) already has some form of sports betting law on the books, which seems to put them the fewest steps away from starting.

Arkansas

Arkansas is the only state in the Union in which a start to sports betting is a guarantee in 2019.

Voters in the Land of Opportunity seized their chance during the November midterm elections, legalizing the activity by ballot measure. A casino-funded group called Driving Arkansas Forward spearheaded the initiative.

The onus is now on the Arkansas Racing Commission to draft rules that will serve as the guardrails for the industry. The agency must begin accepting applications for legal sports betting no later than June 1, 2019.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson is not a fan of the new law, but is not expected to intervene.

District of Columbia

The nation’s capital is the smallest and most recent addition to the list of locales with the potential for legal sports betting.

A late-breaking bill worked through the DC Council in short order 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.

DC sports betting will be conducted online via the lottery and through licensed retail venues, including the city’s stadiums and arenas. The plan right now is to have things up and running by Opening Day for the Washington Nationals.

The District likely will be the ninth US jurisdiction to roll out legal wagering if that timeline holds.

New York

New York is one of the two states that is colored blue on our tracker, a tag of shame when worn for an extended period of time.

The Empire State has legal sports betting on the books under a 2013 voter referendum that garnered broad support. That law facilitated the construction of four new commercial casinos and expressly authorized them to operate retail sportsbooks. All four are open for business, and all are struggling through financial turbulence out of the gate.

The SCOTUS decision triggered that NY sports betting law, but 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 via a handful of 2018 sports betting bills, none of which cleared both chambers.

The landscape for 2019 is still coming into focus, and any optimism should be tempered.

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.

Despite the existing law, plenty of work remains to include the tribes and the racing industry, as well as authorization for mobile betting.

Connecticut

Connecticut is the other blue state, having a partial law on the books. Authorization there dates back to July 2017 and also hinged on the SCOTUS decision this past May. Here’s the 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.

Like their colleagues in New York, regulators in Connecticut have made no public progress toward implementation. 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 like stakeholders were finally coming together just before the 2018 session expired, so odds of more progress in 2019 seem favorable. The next steps are likely (1) a repeal of the current sports betting prohibition and (2) the promulgation of rules.

Preserving the tribe-state relationship will be crucial going forward. Outgoing Gov. Dannel Malloy reportedly reached an agreement on sports betting with the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes, but legislators took no action to move forward.

Michigan

At the tail end of the year, Michigan vaulted itself close to the front of the queue for legal sports betting.

Lawmakers pushed an online gambling bill through the statehouse in the 11th hour of the session, sending their proposal to Gov. Rick Snyder for his signature. On Friday, Snyder vetoed multiple gambling bills, sending proponents into the 2019 legislative session with work to do.

What’s most interesting for our purposes was this piece of language:

The division may permit internet gaming operators licensed by the division to accept internet wagers under this act on any amateur or professional sporting event or contest.

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.
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