2018 was a momentous year for sports betting in the United States thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn a decades-old federal law that prohibited states from legalizing and regulating sports betting.
That decision kicked off a whirlwind of activity as lawmakers across the country scrambled to take advantage of the new opportunity. Since the decision came down on May 14th, eight states have passed legislation to legalize and regulate sports betting to date.
A tribal casino in New Mexico has also begun taking sports wagers without waiting for the state to pass legislation, and Nevada is still going strong. In all, that means sports betting is now legal or taking place in ten states.
Here’s what happened in 2018:
- Delaware (June 5th): The first legal sports bet to be booked outside Nevada took place at a casino in Delaware on June 5th. Delaware got there first thanks to existing laws that allowed the state to move quickly after the Supreme Court ruling.
- New Jersey (June 14th): New Jersey was the first state to legalize online and in-person sports betting. The first wagers were placed on June 14th and the state has since licensed numerous online and retail sportsbooks.
- Mississippi (August 1st): Mississippi passed a fantasy sports bill in 2017 that also included language to legalize sports betting contingent on a favorable ruling from the Supreme Court. Regulations were approved in June of 2018 and the first wagers were taken on August 1st.
- West Virginia (August 30th): West Virginia legalized online and in-person sports betting way back in March in anticipation of the Supreme Court ending the federal prohibition. The first in-person wagers were taken on August 30th and mobile betting got underway on December 27th.
- New Mexico (October 16th): New Mexico did not pass legislation in 2018, but the tribal-owned Santa Ana Star Casino & Hotel was able to open a sportsbook in October due to existing state-tribal gaming compacts.
- Arkansas (November 6th): A referendum to legalize sports betting and automatically grant licenses to two existing racetracks plus issue up to two additional licenses to yet-to-be-built casinos was added to the 2018 midterm ballot and passed. Arkansas Racing Commission now needs to create regulations before sports betting may commence.
- Pennsylvania (November 15th): Pennsylvania passed a comprehensive gaming reform bill in 2017 legalizing online sports betting, casino games and poker. Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course accepted the state’s first legal sports wager on November 15th.
- Rhode Island (November 26th): A state budget bill approved in June legalized in-person sports betting in June and the first wagers were taken in November.
- Washington DC (December 18th): The Washington DC council approved a bill to authorize retail and mobile sports betting on December 18th. The governor still needs to sign the bill, which will then move to Congress for a 30-day review period as required by all DC legislation. If Congress does not act, the bill will become law.
Five States Most Likely to Legalize Sports Betting in 2019
Numerous other states also saw legislation introduced and then fail to advance, but even those failed efforts indicate positive momentum as we head into 2019. Now, we’ll take what we learned in 2018 and preview the states most likely to legalize sports betting next year.
Michigan heads into 2019 as the state most likely to legalize sports betting thanks to a law passed in the final hours of the 2018 legislative session. The Lawful Internet Gaming Act passed votes in the House and Senate on December 20th and now needs to receive the governor’s signature to become law.
The bill deals primarily with online gambling and poker, but a single line in the bill also cleared the way for legal online sports betting:
“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.”
In fact, one could make the argument that Michigan should have been included in the 2018 list based on that one line alone. However, Michigan isn’t quite there yet. The Division of Internet Gaming (DIG) still needs to be created and then it will have to choose to authorize online sports betting before we can call it a done deal in Michigan.
Additional legislation may also be needed in 2019 to solidify the state’s plans on sports betting. Even if that is the case, the fact that the bill made it through both chambers with sports betting language intact indicates there is sufficient support to make it happen.
Update: Outgoing governor Rick Snyder vetoed the online gambling and sports betting bill in the final days of 2018 to put an end to that effort. Lawmakers will have to go back to the drawing board again in 2019, but Michigan still looks like a good bet next year with local casino operators and many state representatives still on board.
New York has been on the verge of having legal sports betting for quite some time now. One law has already been passed to allow the four upstate casinos to offer sports wagers, but they’ve been waiting for the NYS Gaming Commission to enact regulations that would allow them to begin taking wagers.
The state, however, appears to be waiting for more comprehensive legislation that would allow all New York casinos and racetracks get in on the action in addition to authorizing mobile betting.
Newsday reported in October that both parties and Gov. Cuomo all support legal sports betting and believe 2019 is the year they will get it done. Additionally, major gaming companies including DraftKings, MGM and 888 and Bet365 have all struck deals with local stakeholders in recent months in anticipation of New York legalizing sports betting in the near future.
Rhode Island (Again)
Rhode Island gained in-person sports betting in 2018, but new efforts to legalize mobile betting will likely materialize in 2019. State Senate President Dominick Ruggerio told reporters in November that he is already working on legislation to legalize mobile sports betting and will introduce a bill in January.
With Rhode Island already approving in-person sports betting, the odds of a mobile-friendly piece of legislation also passing in 2019 are good.
Kentucky has been flirting with sports betting legislation for several months now and all the key players needed to pass a bill appear to be on the same page. State lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are reportedly working on legislation.
State Senator Damon Thayer has also said that he’s working on legislation with plans to introduce a bill in January. He believes he has bipartisan support for the effort and is intent on passing a bill quickly.
“I don’t want us to be one of the last states to pass sports wagering,” he said at a conference in September. “I want us to be one of the first 10 states to pass sports wagering, and I want it to support the horse industry.”
More recently, Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear has come out in support of legalizing sports betting in order to fund pensions. All signs point to Kentucky being a contender in 2019.
Multiple Ohio senators announced their intention to introduce sports betting bills over the course of 2018. Senators Eklund and O’Brien introduced a placeholder bill in July and Senator Coley, who runs the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States, supports passing legislation in Ohio.
The legalization of sports betting in neighboring states West Virginia and Pennsylvania has also put pressure on Ohio to follow suit in order to protect its own casino industry. In addition to all of that, Governor-elect Mike DeWine supports legalization.
Runners Up and Potential Trouble Spots
The next year will also likely include at least one surprise as a state that wasn’t previously on the radar suddenly makes a sprint for sports betting. New Mexico, for example, came out of left field when a tribal-owned casino began operating a sportsbook without even waiting for the state to pass legislation.
Surprises aside, the following states also have decent chances of passing legislation over the next year.
- Connecticut: Connecticut has a bill in place to legalize sports betting, but the legislature was slow to act last year to pass the additional legislation needed to make it happen. New efforts will likely materialize in 2019. However, disputes between gaming tribes, off-track betting parlors and the state lottery have the potential to derail progress.
- Kansas: A bill introduced in Kansas earlier this year failed to gain traction, but lawmakers are said to be planning a second push in 2019.
- Missouri: Missouri lawmakers have already confirmed they’ll be making another effort to legalize sports wagering in 2019. The governor is neutral on the idea, but the Missouri Lottery may also support the idea if it can get a seat at the table. However, an integrity fee and a requirement that customers register in-person at a casino may dampen expectations.
- Iowa: Iowa’s prospects looked bright earlier this year with democrats, republicans, casinos, the state lottery and lottery retailers all interested in seeing action on a sports betting bill in 2019. More recently, local news has reported that a bill will be introduced in January.
- Louisiana: Several sports betting bills were introduced to little effect in Louisiana throughout 2018, but lawmakers say they are interested in trying again next year.
- New Mexico: This is our against-the-grain pick as we have not seen any industry insiders name New Mexico as a likely candidate. The fact that a tribal casino is now operating a sportsbook without the NM Attorney General stepping in bodes well as a gauge of sentiment. On the other hand, legal uncertainty persists and could delay future legislative efforts.
Potential Trouble Spots
The momentum for legal sports betting is building, but outside factors could also stall movement to some degree. For one, several of the states that legalized sports betting in 2018 already had laws on the book in anticipation of the Supreme Court decision and were able to move quickly.
Congress could also impact legislation at the state level if plans floated by Senators Orrin Hatch and Chuck Schumer appear to pick up steam. Senators Hatch and Schumer introduced a federal bill in December that would not only impose certain regulations at the national level, but also grant the DOJ veto power over laws passed at the state level. This development could slow efforts at the state level if federal intervention appears imminent.