Why Idaho Sports Betting Continue to Lack Support for Legalization

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Mar 22, 2023 08:00 PM
Why Idaho Sports Betting Continue to Lack Support for Legalization

Even as the majority of the United States embraces legal gambling, the likelihood of sports betting coming to Idaho continues to be nil.

Indeed, we should never say never. In fact, most believe Idaho sports betting is inevitable, because they believe all sports betting is inevitable.

For now, however, the issue is mostly moot. It isn't just that Idaho has so far opposed the legalization of sports betting. It's that they haven't even truly considered it. Ever since the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA) was overturned in 2018, most states have at least introduced and discussed legislature that would legalize various forms of gambling. Not every initiative has been successful. Look no further than bills to legalize sports betting in California, or sports betting in Texas, or sports betting in—well, you get the point. Even in places where sports betting isn't legal, it is generally still a topic of conversation.

Idaho is among the most longstanding exceptions to this rule. They have never taken a sports betting bill to the House of Representatives or Senate. Cursory dialogue has taken place, but it has never progressed beyond preliminary talk, let alone culminated in an official vote.

Why is Idaho so adamantly opposed to not only legalizing sports betting but even talking about it? The theories vary, and there are no doubt multiple reasons factoring into their position. But a recent op ed published in the Idaho Statesman may shed some light on the state's primary qualm with legal gambling.

Does Idaho Sports Betting Actually Have the Market to Justify Legalization?

States tend to legalize sports betting for one reason: tax revenue. Gambling is a multi-billion dollar industry in the USA. And in the five years since PASPA was overturned, individual states of all sizes have garnered millions upon millions of dollars in tax revenue from that multi-billion dollar industry. Since 2018, legal sports betting has actually generated more than $3 billion in state and federal taxes, according the Associated Press..

What's more, the gambling market continues to grow and grow. Every month, we hear about states breaking their own sports betting revenue records and exceeding financial projections. In most cases, the legalization of wagering has turned out to be a cash cow. However, there are some exceptions—states that have wound up whiffing on their sports betting revenue forecasts. And as David A. Lieb hints at in a piece that appeared in the Idaho Statesman, The Gem State may be worried about doing the same:

"But not every state is banking as many bucks as projected from sports betting. Legislative analysts in Montana, which allows sports bets only from online networks inside bars and casinos, had anticipated that $79 million of bets would be cast last fiscal year, generating $4.8 million of state tax revenue. The actual results were about half that—$2.4 million of state tax revenue from about $45 million of sports bets. Connecticut received less than $20 million in sports betting taxes in the first 16 months since wagering began in October 2021. Legislative analysts had projected $21 million in its first full fiscal year."

Idaho is right to be concerned on the surface. They are not home to any professional sports teams. The Boise State college football and basketball programs will be their biggest betting draws among in-state squads—unless Idahoans like to bet on minor league baseball.

With such a limited sports market, it is absolutely possible Idaho could fall on the lower end of revenue from gambling. That, in turn, might suggest it's not worth the trouble of constructing a bill, voting on it and then setting up an entire sports betting infrastructure.

Concerns Over Idaho Sports Betting Revenue are Shortsighted

While concerns over Idaho sports betting revenue are entirely fair, they are also shortsighted. They might even be outright mistaken. Idaho would not be the first state with a dearth of pro sports teams inside their market to legalize gambling. Other states have made the transition already, and as Mr. Lieb noted in his piece, the move has turned out to be quite profitable.

"New York and Ohio both have large populations and multiple professional sports teams to help drive interest in sports betting. Arkansas, a much smaller state without major league sports teams, began in-person sports betting at casinos in July 2019. Things really took off last year when it launched mobile sports betting. State figures show nearly $3 million was wagered on this year's Super Bowl—more than three times the annual amount before mobile betting was allowed. State officials expect people from neighboring states to cross into Arkansas to bet on March Madness."

Arkansas' population (roughly 3 million) is larger than that in Idaho (1.9 million). But the former's legalization of online sports betting still serves as a reasonable comparison point for The Gem State.

Sports fans needn't reside in a state with major league sports clubs to actively root for them. The internet has made every team, across every sport, accessible to everyone. This ensures there will be fans of every sport in each state. Do you think people in Idaho dislike the NFL just because their state doesn't have a team? Of course not. Numerous polls have shown that Idahoans follow teams from neighboring regions such as Washington (Seattle Seahawks), Arizona (Arizona Cardinals), California (Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Chargers), Colorado (Denver Broncos) and Nevada (Las Vegas Raiders).

It's the same story with mobile gambling. People in Idaho can wager on any team they choose by signing up with one of the top online sportsbooks. The state only stands to limit their sports betting market if they restrict gambling to on-site. And even if the early returns from tax revenue miss initial projections, the business of online sports betting isn't a sprint. It's a marathon. As countless other states have proven, sports betting revenue will only climb over time. So if Idaho or anywhere else wishes to avoid the legalization of gambling, they have little reason to use profit margins as an excuse.

Take a look at this list of the top online sportsbooks so you can find one that works for all of your sports betting needs:

Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan Favale leverages over 12 years of sports journalism expertise in his role as New York staff writer. He provides in-depth analysis across the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, tennis, NASCAR, college basketball, and sports betting. Dan co-hosts the popular Hardwood Knocks NBA podc...

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