Lots of things went wrong in 2020 and at the start of 2021. If one thing went right, though, it was the United States' push toward more widespread legal sports betting. The coronavirus pandemic incentivized local governments to green light sports betting at a faster pace, and the results speak for themselves. Ten new states have passed a bill to legalize sports wagering in the last year alone, with more expected to follow. Some states, however, remain holdouts.
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After a long wait, more than half of the United States has a 50-plus-percent approval rate on legalized sports betting. Nearly 30 states have now officially implemented it or approved a bill that's expected to do so by the end of 2021. This is a massive increase over where we were in 2019 or 2020.
Legalized sports betting almost feels universal. More states are expected to follow suit soon. And yet, states that recently introduced sports betting bills and were rejected remain prevalent.
The factors that drive those who have so far resisted the sports betting movement—most notably places like Texas, Massachusetts—into holding out vary. But it can be tricky to keep track of which places don't yet have sports betting in place and why.
States That Haven't Legalized Sports Betting
Some states have proposed sports betting legislation and rejected it. Others haven't even introduced the idea.
That's why we've compiled a list of the states that remain on the outskirts and separated them into categories, so you can know exactly where each of the holdouts stands. After sorting them, we'll then discuss any pertinent talking points that might provide insight into their thinking or what the future holds.
States Propose Legislation But Not Pass It
- North Dakota
- South Carolina
California didn't pass the bill
Among all of these states, California is the most surprising. They are within close proximity of Nevada, which houses Las Vegas, the gambling capital of the United States. They also skew liberal and have a ton of pro sports teams within their domain. You'd think there would be a stronger push to legalize sports betting.
To this point, though, tribal casinos have successfully blocked any attempts at introducing such legislation. That, in turn, has caused most lawmakers to drop the issue, out of pure inconvenience. We will need to see tribal casinos soften their stance before anything happens in California, where the subject has been mostly dormant since 2020.
Massachusetts is also up there on the list of surprises. So many of the surrounding states have gone the legalization route—Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. Even Connecticut has jumped on the train. It only makes sense they follow suit. They're losing revenue to neighboring regions.
However, legalized sports betting was once again left off the senate's budget in 2021. Taxes appear to be the primary reason. Advocates are pushing for fees in the 10 percent to 12.5 percent range while opponents want to see 18 percent to 20 percent. Massachusetts could simply pass the bill with the latter tax range, but the belief is they wouldn't find any sportsbook operators willing to do business at that rate.
Granted, Massachusetts is not an anomaly in the Northeast. Connecticut only recently joined the club in May 2021, and Vermont continues to resist passing a bill proposed in February that provided very few details or guidelines.
Ohio has taken steps to propose sports-betting legislation, but government officials are at odds over both oversight and tax rates. Texas is in the same boat; they proposed a bill that would allow mobile betting on pro and college teams. But voters must first pass a bill to amend their state constitution, and no one seems to know how that's going to fly.
Georgia actually passed a bill in 2019 that would allow for legalized betting licenses to be obtained by 10 operators. The motion has been dead ever since and it was once again shot down midway through 2021. Nearly a half-dozen bills have been proposed in Kansas without a single one ever making it past the first pass-through stage.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma is still trying to get support from their tribal casinos. In North Dakota, the local government has emphatically shot down legal sports betting despite South Dakota making the plunge. South Carolina continues to allow riverboat gambling but keeps nixing proposals to legalize sports betting on land.
For their part, Hawaii and Alaska have at least broached the subject of legal sports betting. But bills introduced in 2019 and 2020, respectively, have yet to go anywhere.
Though things are looking up in Maine, they have yet to cobble together a veto-proof bill that can get past the governor. They are, however, a state to watch in 2021. And a bill in Alabama has finally made it to the House of Representatives, but can't yet get past there.
States Not Close To Legal Sports Betting
At least states that have seen their bills get rejected are proposing them at all. A select few states aren't even on the verge of trying.
Utah is the least likely of these three to ever legalize sports betting. Their anti-gambling stance is embedded into their constitution. As experts have noted, "Any change to existing state policy toward gambling would be a massive departure from decades of opposition to any form of gambling, including lottery tickets, table games, and sports betting."
Wisconsin so far has shown little interest in addressing the issue at all. There have been statements made that the process might begin soon, but they've yet to put any bill into genuine action. Many are hoping the 2021 March Madness tournament will serve as a reminder of what they missed out on, as many Wisconsin residents simply drove to Illinois to place their bets and, by extension, spend their money.
Finally, we have Idaho. They remain completely mum on legal sports betting. No bills have been introduced, and there haven't been any named plans to construct one. After Utah, they may be the least likely state to legalize sports betting long-term.
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