Legalized sports betting continued to grow in 2023, though some significant states remain resistant

December 20, 2023 3:33 PM
Photo: CDC Gaming Reports
  • Mark Anderson, Associated Press
December 20, 2023 3:33 PM
  • Mark Anderson, Associated Press
  • United States

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Legalized sports betting continued its expansion this year while also factoring into scandals in college athletics and suspensions in the NFL for players who violated the league’s gambling policy.

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Six states either passed legislation to legalize sports wagering or allowed sportsbooks to begin accepting bets. Another state, Florida, relaunched sports betting after a two-year legal battle ended when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in October in the casinos’ favor.

Still on the sidelines, however, are the nation’s two most populous states — California and Texas. Sports betting proponents will hope to make progress against significant headwinds in both states in 2024.

There was no apparent movement in California this year to legalize sports betting after two competing measures, including one backed financially by Native American tribes, went down in flames in 2022 at the ballot box.

Baird Fogel, a California attorney who works with the sports betting industry, said the key is getting the full support of the tribes.

“Remember, the tribes don’t need this,” Fogel said. “They can wait forever. That’s the trick here, what everybody needs to get their heads around. You’ve got to proactively come to them with an idea of how to get their support because without their support, this is going nowhere.”

He said the tribes could be receptive if approached correctly. Connecticut and New Jersey reached deals, Fogel said, because those states made agreements with the tribal casinos.

Some kind of revenue split, Fogel said, could get a similar deal done in California.

“It’s got to happen,” Fogel said. “The tax revenue alone is insane. Any casino is already generating nearly $9 billion a year in California alone. I can’t even imagine what that number would balloon to if you were able to do this from the comfort of your own home on a mobile device.”

In Texas, any push for casino gambling is a matter of playing a potentially years-long game.

Proponents have poured millions into political action committees and campaign donations. Casino magnate Miriam Adelson, who in November entered into an agreement to buy the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, donated $1 million to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s 2022 campaign.

Gaming measures have slowly picked up support, but a spending wave has yet to deliver a Texas-sized jackpot in a Legislature where resistance to legalizing casinos still runs deep. The Texas Republican Party passed a resolution that showed renewed opposition to casino gambling among party activists.

There has been no bigger obstacle than Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who controls the state Senate and wields enormous influence over what bills even come up for a vote. A gambling measure that would have allowed mobile sports betting passed the House last spring but never even got a vote in the Senate.

“The Republican electorate controls Texas,” longtime Republican consultant Bill Miller said. “I don’t think right now they are enamored of casino gaming. It’s daunting task to turn that around.”

Texas lawmakers do not meet again in regular session until 2025 and Patrick may run for re-election in 2026.

“Over time, gaming is going to come to Texas in all versions. Casinos will be the last version,” Miller said. “You have to have patience and you have to have money. You have to have the financial standing to stay in the game.”

There are signals that Adelson-led Las Vegas Sands is willing to dig in and wait. Dallas-area media report property records indicate that the casino company purchased around 100 acres of land near the old Texas Stadium site in Irving.

Georgia and Missouri are other states to watch in 2024. A bill could be reintroduced in Georgia, where two other measures already have failed. A bill that passed in the Missouri House this year didn’t get out of the Senate, but it could be resurrected.

Sports betting for decades faced massive opposition from the NCAA and professional leagues because of a concern about potential point shaving that could call into question the legitimacy of games and matches. But with sports betting now widely accepted and even promoted, those in positions of power at the college and pro levels are having to adapt even as negative headlines emerge.

More than 40 Iowa and Iowa State athletes were implicated in a sports-betting investigation, and nine athletes pled guilty to underage gambling.

Alabama baseball coach Brad Bohannon was fired after suspicious betting tied to a Crimson Tide game occurred at a Cincinnati sportsbook.

The NFL has also suspended multiple players this year for violating the league’s sports-betting policy.

Sports betting supporters have long argued that making wagering legal makes it easier to track down improprieties, such as unusual changes in betting lines. Betting done off the books, they say, is nearly impossible to monitor.

“Gambling is still going on in these states, whether or not it’s lawful,” Fogel said. “What that means is it’s going on in an unregulated manner. It’s going untaxed. There’s no integrity program in place where there can be safeguards and regulations. Betting is occurring. I’m not saying that’s the reason to pass legislation, but it is a reason.”

Whether more states find that a compelling reason, including in California and Texas, to legalize sports betting is something to watch in 2024.