Year In Review: Key US Sports Betting Legislative Developments In 2020

Whether or not COVID-19 prevented more states from moving on sports betting in 2020, we’ll never know. But just ahead of some of the toughest restrictions, lawmakers in Washington State and Virginia sealed deals, meaning sports betting should be live in both states by the end of 2021. Of course, legalized sports betting will look much differently in those states.

In three other states — Louisiana, Maryland, and South Dakota — voters approved some form of sports betting on the Nov. 3 ballot. Now legislatures in all of those states must take some additional steps to move the ball, regulators must develop rules, and operators must determine where they want to participate. Voters in Nebraska also approved a massive expansion of gaming, which could well end up including sports wagering.

Regulators in Illinois and Michigan launched retail sports betting operators in their states just days before the most restrictive COVID-19 restrictions were imposed. Mobile/internet wagering went live in Colorado, Washington, D.C., Illinois, and Tennessee later in the year. Michigan regulators are targeting the first half of January 2021 to launch operators online, according to MI Bets.

And the Montana Lottery introduced sports betting via lottery terminals across the state in March. Overall, about 20 U.S. jurisdictions now have some sort of live, legal sports betting, and six more have legalized, but operators have not yet gone live.

If we learned anything about sports betting in 2020, it is that mobile is what the consumers want and where the money is at. For the states that already had digital sports wagering up and running, pandemic-related gaming losses were not nearly as painful as states with retail-only gaming. While operators in New Jersey are approaching $1 billion in monthly handle (and state revenue is in the millions per month), operators from Pennsylvania to Colorado saw more than 90% of their business through online channels.

How each legalization happened, projected live dates

As 2020 comes to a close, here’s a look at what happened where:

Louisiana

Two years after voters in 47 of 64 parishes legalized daily fantasy sports, they legalized retail sports betting in 56 parishes. When it’s live, existing casinos and racinos will be able to open brick-and-mortar sportsbooks, but like neighboring Mississippi, legal mobile betting apps will not be available statewide. Up next, the legislature has to set a tax rate on gaming revenue, which is the heaviest lift of all the infrastructure needed — a two-thirds majority is required for any legislation in Louisiana involving taxes. More than two years after legalizing DFS, lawmakers approved regulations in December. Given how long it’s taken for DFS rules and how tough it could be to set a tax rate, it’s going to be a good long while before operators launch. Next year’s session in Louisiana is a short one — 45 legislative days — and runs April 12-June 10.

Go-live date prediction: 2022

Maryland

Lawmakers were getting closer to compromise on the tax rate, location, and other necessary infrastructure when the COVID-19 pandemic forced early adjournment. After several years of negotiations, legislators opted to strip down their bills and send a simple “yes” or “no” question to voters. The referendum to allow statewide mobile and retail sports betting at existing casinos and two racetracks passed with about 65% of the vote. Lawmakers will have to determine if wagering at pro sports venues — which is legal in nearby Virginia and Washington, D.C. — will be allowed.

As in Louisiana, lawmakers promised to prioritize sports betting legislation in Maryland. Given that the state has an existing gaming infrastructure and stakeholders seem to be mostly in agreement, live sports betting could be available in the latter half of 2021. The general assembly will be in session for 90 days, from Jan. 13-April 12, 2021.

Go-live date prediction: Late 2021

South Dakota

Voters here approved a narrow scope of sports betting — in Deadwood only. But stakeholders say there is some ambiguity to the referendum language and that statewide mobile sports betting could be on the table. That would make South Dakota the second in its region to offer a digital option. Iowa has had legal retail and mobile sports betting since 2018. The only other border state with legal sports betting is Montana, but the lottery there has a monopoly and it’s offered only via lottery terminals throughout the state. Brick-and-mortar gaming is legal in Deadwood already, and stakeholders say legal retail sports betting could start as early as July 1. The South Dakota Commission on Gaming will be the regulator.

Go-live date prediction: Summer 2021

Virginia

On April 22, 2020, the legislature accepted amendments from Gov. Ralph Northam to legalize statewide mobile sports betting. Retail wagering will be available at five to-be-built casinos and professional sports venues. The Virginia Lottery is the regulator, and after approving rules in September, it’s in the process of vetting applications.

As of now, there are approximately 14 digital sports betting licenses available (some stand alone, some tethered to future casinos, and some tethered to pro sports teams), but the lottery got 25 applications. Who will get those licenses? The lottery isn’t even releasing which operators applied, though Hard Rock, Rush Street, and William Hill all have market access via casino partners, and BetMGM, DraftKings, FanDuel, and PointsBet have all applied for licenses. And Handle 19, Washington, D.C.’s independently owned sportsbook, previously said it was interested in expanding to Virginia. The current goal is for sports betting to go live ahead of the Super Bowl, which is set for Feb. 7.

Go-live date prediction: Late January/early February 2021

Washington

Lawmakers in Washington State were the first to legalize sports betting in 2020 when Gov. Jay Inslee signed ESHB 2638 into law on March 10. The new law allows for retail sports betting only at tribal casinos, and the state is the first to pass sweeping tribal-only sports betting legislation. As of December, the Washington Gambling Commission was starting work on regulations, which it expects to have available next spring. From there, operators would have to apply for licenses. In addition, the states’s 29 tribes must renegotiate their pacts to include sports betting, and to date, none have completed that process, though at least four are currently in conversations with the state.

Go-live date prediction: Late 2021/early 2022

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