More States Push To Legalize Sports Betting in 2023

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Mobile sports betting continues to spread across the United States at a breakneck pace. The American Gaming Association reports that, as of January 3, 2023, sports betting activity is live and legal in 32 states plus the District of Columbia, with legal but pending introduction in another four.

Here are some states to keep an eye on for anticipated gambling legislation 2023:

Alaska

In February 2022, Representative Adam Wool (D) introduced HB 385, a bill to permit mobile sports gambling in Alaska. The bill was referred to the Labor and Commerce committee on February 23, 2022, but was not put to a vote in the 2022 session. It was introduced late in the second session of Alaska’s two-year legislature, and Ken Alper, an aide to Wool, acknowledged at the time that “[m]ost of these bills are presented to introduce a concept, make a point, or plan for the future; it is highly unlikely that many of them will make it through the full bicameral committee process in the remaining 2-3 months of session.”

Nonetheless, the Alaska Department of Revenue commissioned a $400,000 study in July 2021 to investigate the state adding betting and other forms of gambling, so Wool’s bill is not without precedent. Furthermore, the state’s governor, Mike Dunleavy, has been one of the biggest supporters of sports wagering, introducing bills to legalize sports betting and a state lottery in 2020. If any bill does reach his desk, the Gov. Dunleavy is likely to sign it.

The next Alaskan legislative session opens on Jan. 17. While support for legalizing gambling has been slow coming, with Alaska hosting neither land-based casinos nor a state lottery, it does appear we may be seeing the tip of the sports betting iceberg in our northernmost state.

California

The largest potential sports betting market in the country took a hit this fall, with two ballot initiatives to legalize sports betting in California falling well short of passage. Proposition 26, the California Sports Wagering Regulation and Unlawful Gambling Act, would have allowed for retail sports betting in tribal gaming casinos, while Proposition 27, the California Solutions to Homelessness and Mental Health Support Act, would have legalized only mobile bets, with tax revenue dedicated to homelessness. California tribes strongly opposed the latter.

The California gambling market is estimated at $30 billion in total bets at peak, so it’s not surprising that legislation is expected in upcoming sessions. Look for California tribal casinos to drive the future of the state’s mobile gambling, as a united tribal front against Prop 27, in particular, spelled its doom. The California tribes uniformly see casino games offered online and beyond their retail properties as an existential threat to their economic independence. And they see sports betting, especially online sports betting, as the gateway.

Some tribal leaders appear prepared to play hardball, with Frank Sizemore, chief operating officer of the San Manuel Tribe of Mission Indians, stating that, “sports wagering is No. 752 on people’s agenda. No one really cares. It’s just not that big of a deal to most people.”

Still, Sizemore acknowledges the possibility of a structure where well-known brands such as DraftKings and FanDuel provided technical support for online gambling controlled by tribal casinos, “similar to the way Cisco and others operate your computer system.” Whether or not tribal casinos and national gambling companies can reach a compromise is a big factor in the advancement of any future California gambling legislation.

The California legislature reconvened on Jan. 4, and while there are currently no rumblings of significant sports betting bills, we will keep an eye on this potentially massive market.

Florida

Mobile sports in Florida was legal for a brief moment in late 2021 before a series of court cases shut it down amid a protracted legal battle. A compact was reached between Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminoles in 2021 that gave the tribe exclusive rights to retail and mobile sports betting. The Seminole Tribe then launched a mobile sports betting app under the Hard Rock brand, taking bets for a little more than a month.

A federal lawsuit charges that tribal gaming law allows bets on tribal lands only and that a bet made through the internet on servers located on that land doesn’t qualify. The case could have ramifications for tribal gaming elsewhere in the country. It also may not resolve until well into 2024, and the court shut down all sports betting in the meantime, holding that, “[a]lthough the Compact ‘deem[s]’ all sports betting to occur at the location of the Tribe’s ‘sports book[s]’ and supporting servers… this Court cannot accept that fiction. When a federal statute authorizes an activity only at specific locations, parties may not evade that limitation by ‘deeming’ their activity to occur where it, as a factual matter, does not.”

The decision was a victory for the owners of Magic City Casino and Bonita Springs Poker Room and a group of plaintiffs that includes No Casinos and Miami businessmen Armando Codina and Norman Braman. They each filed separate lawsuits against U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, alleging that the federal government improperly approved the gaming compact.

“I think this is a big victory. I couldn’t ask for more,’’ said Codina. Codina and Braman have fought to block gaming expansion for decades and helped finance the successful 2018 constitutional amendment that requires that any expansion of gambling be approved by voters in a statewide referendum.

Meanwhile, Florida Education Champions proposed a constitutional amendment that would have legalized mobile sports betting for multiple providers, but failed to submit the required 514,874 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. FEC blamed the inability to collect the required signatures in part on a surge in the COVID pandemic, so look for another proposed amendment, in addition to a resolution of the current federal lawsuit, as potential avenues for legalizing Florida sports gambling.

While there is optimism that the Seminoles Florida Sports Betting Compact will ultimately prevail, it is difficult to predict a timeline for the resolution of federal court cases.

Georgia

The Georgia legislature begins its new session next week, and supporters of sports gambling are hopeful this year could be the one when lawmakers approve a measure supporting their cause.

The Sports Betting Alliance, which advocates for groups including BetMGM, DraftKings, FanDuel, and Fanatics, told  WTOC in Savannah, “We look forward to working with the legislature to establish a safe and responsible online sports betting market in Georgia. In over half the country, legal online sports betting platforms are providing fans with a safe and responsible way to place bets – all while generating significant revenue for state and local priorities. Currently, Georgians can only place bets with illegal offshore sports betting websites – unsafe and illicit enterprises that offer consumer protections and provide no benefit to Georgia communities. Georgia residents deserve a safe, responsible, and legal sports betting market.”

Legislative efforts to introduce mobile sports betting in the Peach State have failed every time they have been presented to the General Assembly. But new leadership friendly to sports betting will oversee the state Senate when it convenes.

Savannah State Representative Ron Stevens says he’s never been more confident that lawmakers will vote to put a sports gambling constitutional amendment on the ballot. Supporters say it would boost the HOPE scholarship and pre-K programs.

However, even if the sports betting ball gets rolling during this year’s legislative assembly, it could be until 2025 before people can bet legally in Georgia. This is because any legalization would likely come in the form of an amendment to the state constitution which, if approved by voters in the 2024 general election, would need implementation during the 2025 legislative session

Kentucky

Kentucky recently opened its 2023 legislation with the presentation of HB 106. This bill, sponsored by House Representatives Cherlynn Stevenson, Derrick Graham, and Rachel Roberts, would permit online sports betting, poker, and fantasy gaming in the Bluegrass State.

Much like SB 213, proposed in 2022 by Senator David Yates, HB 106 would bring state racetracks into the fold, allowing them to partner with mobile sports operators to permit wagering statewide. HB 106 would set no restrictions on college betting, a significant factor in a state where Kentuckians are passionate about their college sports.

The previous SB 213 passed the House but failed to pass the Senate in 2022, where it died without a vote.

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear supports mobile gaming efforts, stating that he is “100% for sports betting” at last year’s opening of the gaming portion of Turfway Park. The main public opponent is The Kentucky Council on Problem Gambling, which claims that legalized sports betting could catapult problem gambling numbers in the state.

In the meantime, Kentucky gamblers may be tempted to travel to Ohio, where legalized sports gaming recently went live.

Minnesota

Representative Zack Stephenson  is optimistic a mobile gaming bill will pass in the 2023 legislative session, which opened last week. Stephenson said that the bill would be similar to a 2022 bill he co-authored,  HF 778, which passed the House but failed in the Senate.

2022’s HF 778, which aligned itself with tribal gaming, failed because Senate leaders also wanted to include sports betting at horse racing tracks. A potential for compromise is possible in 2023.

The biggest hurdle to passing a mobile gaming bill in Minnesota is likely differences of opinion between tribal lands and other stakeholders, including local racetracks.

Rep. Stephenson is confident of legalization in 2023 and characterized the legislation he wants to propose as an opportunity for regulation and consumer protection rather than income, stating that, “[t]his is not supposed to be a revenue-maker for the state of Minnesota, and I think it’s a bad idea to legalize sports betting just to fund the state’s treasury, nor do we need to do that right now.” Minnesota is currently projecting a $17.6 billion budget surplus.

Almost all attempts at legalized sports betting so far have included in-person sports betting at tribal casinos, with online operators being able to come into the state through licenses handed out by those casinos. Look for tribal friendly legislation to gain the most traction in the 2023 session.

Missouri

Missouri legislators proposed four bills to legalize sports gambling at the opening of last week’s session.

Last year, Missouri’s efforts to legalize mobile sports gambling passed the House but failed to pass the Senate. HB 2502 would have earmarked 39 total skins for Missouri’s 13 casinos and six professional sports teams. This was the fifth consecutive session that sports betting legislation was introduced. Representative Dan Houx told Gaming Today that he anticipates his 2023 proposal will be similar to this 2022 version.

Senator Denny Hoskins effectively talked HB 2502 to death to voice his opposition to the fact that the House legislation failed to legalize the approximately 20,000 unregulated video gaming terminals (VGTs), largely slot machines, that operate as a grey market in Missouri. Hoskins later agreed to drop his objections to the bill but, by then, it was too late to do anything to revive the vote.

The 2022 version was the farthest a bill has advanced, so there is optimism going forward. Sen. Hoskins recently told Gaming Today that legalized sports gambling is a key issue with constituents, and he is “very optimistic it will get done this year.”

North Carolina

North Carolina’s failure to pass a mobile gaming bill last summer surprised many. The bill’s sponsors felt confident they had the votes necessary to pass a version that would have created a dozen licenses to be divided between commercial sportsbooks and pro teams playing in venues of 17,000 or more, including the Quail Hollow PGA Tour golf course and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Then, State Representative John Ager was convinced by opposition from Representatives Pricey Harrison and Marcia Morey to change his vote to no. Reps. Harrison and Morey were among a handful of representatives to debate against the bill, which ultimately resulted in its failure.

north carolina sports betting, state capitol, raleigh
North Carolina legislators look to legalize sports betting in 2023 (photo by Sean Pavone)

Orrick law firm partner and sports gambling lobbyist Jeremy Kudon expects better results when the North Carolina State legislature reconvenes on January 13.

“We’ve had the benefit of time and been able to go back over the last six months and say, ‘Where did we lose support?’” Kudon told Sports Business Journal. “We’re going to be up 10 votes from where we were last year, so long as we don’t have too much division among the proponents of this legislation. It’s just a matter of getting through the process in both chambers again.”

We will see if Kudon’s confidence is well-placed when the North Carolina legislature reconvenes Wednesday, Jan. 11.

South Carolina

Representative J. Todd Rutherford has presented a proposed constitutional amendment, H3095 Joint Resolution, which would legalize both sports betting and casino gambling within state lines. Lawmakers are hoping that presenting this bill sooner would give time for it to be successful in both governing branches. The South Carolina legislature opens its next session on Jan. 11. However, even if legislators agree to put the amendment before state voters, it could not be ratified until 2025.

In 2022 HB 5277 was introduced to legalize mobile sports betting in South Carolina. The measure passed the House but died on the Senate floor without a vote. While the House is clearly on board with sports betting but needs time to convince the Senate of the benefits.

Realistically, South Carolina’s online gambling legislation, outside of a constitutional amendment, is a long shot. Although former South Carolina Rep Joe Cunningham was a proponent of mobile sports betting, he lost his recent gubernatorial candidacy.

Also, neighboring states Georgia and North Carolina do not have statewide betting options. Georgia has no sports betting options and North Carolina only offers retail sports betting at three Native American casinos. Therefore, there is little risk of local residents crossing the border and sending tax dollars to other markets. However, if either of those neighboring states pushes forward successful gambling legislation look for South Carolina to be pressured to act accordingly.

Texas

State Senator Carol Alvarado has pre-filed legislation for the Texas legislative session, which opens today, Jan. 10, that would not only legalize sports wagers, but pave the way for Texas to become a gambling destination.

SJR 17 would establish the Texas Gaming Commission and allow a limited number of “destination resorts” to conduct casino gaming. It faces a difficult challenge in the legislature.

“I haven’t had anyone mention it to me, that they are interested in doing anything,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick told Texas NBC affiliate KXAN. “A lot of talk out there, but I don’t see any movement on it.”

Gambling legalization would require amending the Texas constitution. Constitutional amendments require approval from two-thirds of the House and Senate, and then approval from a majority of Texas voters.

Former Gov. Rick Perry has thrown his voice behind the Texas Sports Betting Alliance, joining many professional sports franchises in trying to bolster the state’s wagering options. “Texans are already participating in mobile sports betting. Legalization would be a home run for all involved,” he said. “Neighboring states are cashing in on Texans’ bets.”

Sports betting has faced an uphill battle in Texas, which has some of the toughest gambling laws nationwide. Adding to the problem is the fact that the state legislature convenes only in odd-numbered years. A bill was introduced in 2021 to legalize mobile sports betting. However, Representative Harold Dutton’s HB 1121, which called for statewide mobile sports betting taxed at a 6.25% rate, a legal betting age of 18, a $250,000 application fee for operators, a $200,000 renewal fee, and a ban on betting on local college teams, failed to receive a vote.

There is some optimism for 2023, with considerable support for sports betting legislation in the nation’s second-largest state, particularly from Texas democrats.  Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has already partnered with Oklahoma’s WinStar Casino and would likely jump at the chance to further affiliate with a sportsbook.

In addition to Jones, almost all the local professional sports teams and sports businesses have advocated for legal sports betting. Still, conservative and religious groups’ pull powerful sway in the Texas capital, plus Texas’ unusual biennial legislative calendar, gives gaming proponents few opportunities.

That said, Texas’ demographics are changing rapidly. Pair that with the fact that Texas has a little under 10% of the U.S. population, which means, theoretically, it could capture about $15 billion of the estimated $150 billion U.S. gambling market if legalized, and it seems that gambling legalization may be somewhere on the vast Texas horizon.

About the Author
Adam Carter

Adam Carter

Adam Carter is a legislative journalist with Gaming Today and has been published since 2017. He holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of South Florida, a Master of Arts in English from Indiana University, and a Juris Doctor from Notre Dame Law. Adam also writes for Great.com, and has been reporting on the gambling industry for over a year. Adam currently lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he practices as an attorney and bemoans the local sports teams. His writing is also available in places such as Florida English Journal, The Rumpus, and Penumbra

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