Why Idaho Sports Betting May Still be Only a Distant Possibility

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Jun 16, 2023 12:00 AM
Idaho sports betting is still a long shot.

The wait for legal sports betting in Idaho feels like it's lasting forever. That's probably because there's been no progress whatsoever on the subject. The Gem State isn't failing to legalize gambling amid conversations and various proposals. They have, for the most part, avoided discussions about Idaho sports betting altogether.

This has not changed in the first half of 2023. Though sports betting initially looked like it might crack the legislative agenda, lawmakers eventually pivoted to what they considered more pressing issues. No sports gambling agenda was ever broached during the months-long sessions. And now, the issue cannot be addressed until at least 2024, mostly likely sometime between January and the middle of March. That's when the Idaho legislature typically meets each year.

Of course, it doesn't much matter when the next round of sessions will convene. Nothing matters, at all, unless Idaho is finally willing to discuss the legalization of sports gambling. And without any serious dialogue happening in the present or on the schedule for the future, it's tough to imagine The Gem State joining the 30-plus other states that have already legalized sports betting in some form anytime soon.

Attempts to pin down Idaho's aversion to sports gambling have seldom yielded singular results. And that makes sense. The view of sports betting throughout the state is complex. There are a plethora of reasons why Idaho has yet to legalize wagering on sports. 

Yet, while so many of these reasons are cited time and again, on repeat, another driving force that's not discussed as often—or ever—may be at play: The casino gambling industry still accounts for the largest share of legal betting throughout the United States. As a result, Idaho may not be in a rush to authorize sports betting—not just now, but ever.

Casino Gambling Industry May be Keeping Idaho Sports Betting on the Legislative Back Burner

So many assume that sports betting makes up a majority of the United States' gambling revenue. The industry is on the rise, and the casino industry is supposed to be on the decline. Not only did the coronavirus pandemic throw all brick-and-mortar business models for a loop, but it's tough to compete with the convenience offered by the best online sports betting sites in the USA. Why leave your home to place a wager when you can simply submit one from the comfort of your home, on a couch, using your favorite online sports betting site or mobile sports betting app?

To be absolutely sure, this is a fair assumption to make. But it's reportedly inaccurate. Within in a recent article that appeared in the Idaho County Free Press, Neil Paine dropped a bombshell on the sports betting and casino gambling industries:

"In the five years that gambling on sports has been broadly legal across the United States, Americans have wagered more than $220 billion on their favorite teams and players. But while sports betting is currently the fastest-growing sector of the commercial gaming business, it is far from the industry's only source of gambling revenue.

"It might surprise readers to learn that sports betting accounted for only around one-fifth of all gambling in the U.S. in the first quarter of 2023, according to data from the American Gaming Association. The other roughly 80% of revenue came from more traditional gambling activities—slot machines and table games such as craps or blackjack—to online casino games, which are quickly gaining popularity. The combined revenue of table games and slot machines, which occur at casinos, dwarfs the amount brought in by sports betting by more than a factor of four. Slot machines, in particular, are popular among bettors, pulling in the majority of all gambling revenue nationwide during the first quarter of 2023."

Many will argue that this current dynamic is only temporary. Legal online sports betting will continue to grow. It eventually has to overshadow the casino industry's other offerings...right?

Why The Casino Gambling Industry Isn't Going Anywhere

Wrong.

It would be foolish to believe that sports betting is the only gambling market on the constant rise. Sure, the concept of visiting casinos may be an ebbing ideal. But operators have hustled to supplement any dips in foot traffic.

Consider that most casinos now offer some kind of gambling app or website. This allows users to partake in slots, cards, table games and even specialty competitions and tournaments that would be available to them on-site. Providing that experience has ensured casino operations will never entirely fade, not even if they don't have sports betting.

Plus, as avid sports fans, we also tend to forget that sports gambling was never the main plot. Even when the USA only allowed sports betting in  Nevada, it was still just a small cog in a much larger machine.

Not all United States citizens are sports fans. Slots and table games, specifically, appeal to a much larger customer base. Sports is very much a subcategory of the gambling industry. That's not going to change.

Is Idaho Sports Betting Out of the Question...Forever?

The lack of focus on Idaho sports betting, as Paine's piece alludes to, is at least tangentially tied to the casino gambling industry. The Gem State has eight casinos. And they are scattered across eight different cities. They have maximized their geography. And they are making plenty of revenue off those operations.

Indeed, legal sports betting in Idaho would open up another revenue stream. But The Gem State ranks 37th out of 50 states in total population, and they don't have any pro sports teams in the market. Lawmakers have struggled to see the upside to sports betting in such a modestly sized area.

This logic is debatable. Online betting sites allow people from any market to get their gambling fix. But industry experts have thrown around phrases like "never happening" when they discuss the future of sports gambling in Idaho.

Is this because conservatives still rule the state's majority? Because lawmakers don't want out-of-state betting sites operating on their turf? Because sports gambling initiatives won't be supported by the voting population? Or because Idaho views casino gambling as the real growth industry?

It's likely a combination of everything. And more. But we can't know for sure. Idaho must actually discuss sports betting first. Then, and only then, will we understand their exact stance.

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Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan first began writing about sports back in 2011. At the time, his expertise lied in the NBA and NFL. More than one decade, that remains the case. But he's also expanded his catalog to include extensive knowledge and analysis on the NHL, MLB, tennis, NASCAR, college ba...

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