WEEKLY FEATURE: Numerous States Still Working to Get Sports Betting Approved

A slew of states are debating legalizing sports betting, but where they are in the process is vastly different—while some look to be on the precipice, others still have a long way to go.

WEEKLY FEATURE: Numerous States Still Working to Get Sports Betting Approved

Georgia, Texas, North Carolina, Alabama, Missouri, Mississippi and Oklahoma are trying to join 36 other states and the District of Columbia in legalizing sports betting.

They are having varying degrees of success as legislation is winding its way through the respective state House and Senate bodies. The one aspect they have in common is they would all like to have sports betting legal by January of next year.

Here’s a rundown of the progress thus far:

Georgia on deck for 16 online sports betting apps

Two weeks ago, it appeared the Georgia legislature had tabled sports betting in the Peach State yet again. Now, however, it appears to be back in play. The tactic used to revive sports betting, though, has come under heavy criticism.

Three sports betting bills, one in the House and two in the Senate, failed to get passed on March 6, the deadline for bills, also known as Crossover Day.

With the bills dying their representative legislative body, it appeared sports betting would have to wait until next year’s session.

But the Georgia Senate Committee on Economic Development voted 8-1 to hijack a bill and put in approved putting sports betting language in a HB 267, which was originally intended to commend a local soap box derby.

That gave sports betting new life, but it is still on life support. The House and Senate have five chances to get the bill approved by the end of the session on March 29.

Unlike previous bills, this would not need a constitutional amendment to pass. Instead, a simple majority would get it to the governor’s desk. Governor Brian Kemp already said he would sign it into law if he receives it.

That is a longshot, though.

Despite this, the Senate committee did approve a provision that would call for 16 mobile betting licenses.

One of those skins has already been taken by the Georgia Lottery. It would have the option to offer its own app. Five of the remaining 15 would go to the state’s five pro sports teams and three to sports facilities. The remaining seven would be awarded to specific entities through a bidding process.

Those that get the licenses will be able to offer customers odds on everything from professional sports, amateur golf and esports. If approved, prospective license holders would have 60 days to apply.

Trio of Texas sports betting bills start path to legalization; poker clubs under fire.

The first step to getting a sports betting bill passed in the Texas legislature happened on March 22 when three possible pieces of legislation were heard in the House State Affairs Committee.

Two of the sports betting bills also include legalizing destination resorts and casino gaming. The other just focuses on sports betting.

In order to become law, the bills need a constitutional amendment. That means they need two-thirds approval by both the House and Senate. Then it would be placed on the November 2023 ballot for voters to decide.

Two of the bills are from Republican Reps. Charlie Geren and John Kuempel. Both lawmakers are seeking destination resort casinos, as well as legalizing sports betting. They are also trying to boost the state’s horse and greyhound racing industry, calling for a percentage of casino gaming revenue to be used as purse money.

The legislation seeks to create the Texas Gaming Commission to oversee legalized gaming. It also would have two destination resorts in the Dallas, Fort Worth, and Arlington area, two in Houston, one in San Antonio, one in McAllen area, and one in Corpus Christi. The eighth location would be determined at a later date.

Rep. Jeff Leach is sponsoring a bill that will be heard in the State Affairs Committee that seeks to legalize online sports betting through a constitutional amendment.

It has plenty of support as most of the Lone Star State’s professional sports teams are backing Leach’s bill. They do have a vested interest in seeing the legislation pass as it would allow teams to partner with an online sports betting operator to offer wagering.

The law, which would have to be approved by voters, would allow the WNBA, MLS, MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL to be eligible for a license. Others that could get a license include professional golf tournaments and horse racing tracks. The tax rate would be set at 10 percent of adjusted gross sports betting revenue and each license will cost $500,000.

While sports betting looks to have a rosy future, the same cannot be said for poker rooms. Several are facing civil lawsuits from Mark Lavery. The Chicago-based attorney contends they are illegal and wants them shut down.

Currently the law states poker games can take place in “private places,” but they can’t take a rake. Businesses get around that by charging a membership fee.

Rep. Gene Wu wants to close that loophole. He submitted a bill that would change the language. Instead of “private place” the law would read “private residence.” If approved, poker clubs would be forced to close.

North Carolina House hears sports betting bill.

A bill that would legalize mobile sports betting in North Carolina passed three tests last week. The House committee on Commerce heard the legislation last week and approved it 17-10. It then cleared the House Finance Committee and the House Judiciary Committee.

Last year, a similar bill failed by a narrow margin. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jason Saine, is confident he can get this legislation approved by his colleagues.

“We have tried to carefully craft a bill that takes in a lot of the opinions expressed last year, and of course this year as we started the session,” Saine said.

Not everyone is a fan of the bill. Rep. Deb Butler said that problem gambling could increase with the easy accessibility of mobile sports wagering. Betting on sports is allowed at the state’s tribal casinos.

“We are knowingly sanctioning additional abusive behavior, excessive behavior, uncontrollable behavior, and heartbreaking behavior,” Butler said.

HB 347 calls for 12 mobile sports betting licenses, and would cost $1 million for five years and wagering would be taxed at 14 percent. The tribes would be allowed to offer mobile betting and it wouldn’t count against the 12.

Other provisions include allowing wagering on college sports and being able to use a credit card to deposit funds.

The next step for the bill is to go to the House Rules Committee. If it clears there then a vote by all members of the House awaits.

Mississippi compromises on mobile sports betting bill

It wasn’t exactly what proponents of sports betting were looking for, but the Mississippi legislature approved a measure that may eventually bring sports wagering across the state.

Those in favor of HB 606 were looking to have mobile sports betting legalized throughout the state. Rep. Casey Eure , however, revised the bill to create a Mobile Sports Betting Task Force to study the issue.

As the law stands, mobile sports betting is legal only on casino properties. The original version of HB 606 would have changed that but it was rejected in favor of the task force. The hope is that the bill can be passed in its entirety in 2024.

“As you know, for the last several years we’ve been working on a mobile sports betting bill, and at this time we felt it was the proper thing to put this task force together, then hopefully come next year and have a good mobile sports betting bill that this House can pass,” Eure said.

After the revision, the bill went on to pass the House 109-5. An amended version passed the Senate 49-1, and that version was approved unanimously by the House last Tuesday.

The taskforce would have 13 members, including the executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission, the commissioner of the Department of Revenue and the chair of the Mississippi Gaming and Hospitality Association. could all sit on the committee or appoint members in their places.

If signed by the governor, the task force could have its first meeting within two months of the bill becoming law on July 1. The deadline to file a report would be December 15 and then the issue could be revisited in the 2024 session.

Alabama legislature could host several sports betting bills.

The 2023 Alabama legislature session kicked off March 21 and sports betting was on the minds of several lawmakers. They heard from John Pappas, GeoComply senior vice president of government and public affairs, who talked to them about the issue.

Sports betting, as well as a lottery and casino gaming, has been an ongoing issue in Alabama. Lawmakers have tried for the past four years to get a sports betting bill passed, but it has failed every year.

If sports betting is going to pass, it would require a constitutional amendment. That requires two-thirds approval of both the House and Senate.

As it stands now, Alabamians are either using illegal sportsbooks or crossing state lines to make wagers, according to Rep. John Rogers.

“Right now the will of the people is that they want the lottery, they want casinos, they want the whole gambit,” Rogers said. “And it happens anyway because they’ll go into other states to participate.”

Alabama state Senator Greg Albritton estimated the cost of not having sports betting at $800 million on lost revenue.

“I believe there will be at least one, probably closer to five different gaming bills that will be dropped in the House and the Senate,” Albritton said. “It is my intention to take each one of those as they come and try to combine them into a comprehensive bill, which is what the state needs.”

Missouri sports betting passes first test

Missouri House Bill 556, which would legalize mobile sports betting passed a first-round voice vote in the House. It faces a second vote before it will be moved over to the Senate for approval.

The bill calls for 45 sportsbook apps for the Show Me State. Revenue would be taxed at 10 percent. An amendment that would have raised the rate to 21 percent failed.

Another amendment that would have required a referendum vote to legalize sports betting in Missouri also failed.

Last year, a similar bill advanced to the Senate but stalled. Rep. Dan Houx is the sponsor of this year’s bill. It may meet a similar fate because some in the Senate want language inserted in the bill that would legalize video slots, otherwise known as video lottery terminals.

Approximately 20,000 unregulated video slot machines operate in Missouri.

Houx told Fox4 News in January that “it’s always been my belief that video lottery and sports gambling are two separate bills so it’s just a sports gambling bill all on its own.”

The sports betting bill has the support of all six of Missouri’s pro sports teams. St. Louis Cardinals President President Bill DeWitt III, said delaying sports betting in the state is a negative.

“One of the downsides of the delay of several years here is that fans haven’t been able to (bet on sports legally),” DeWitt said. “However, one of the good sides is that we’ve learned from other states. We’ve learned how to tweak this to make it more reflective of the market that’s out there.”

Oklahoma sports betting bill revived but faces long odds.

Legalizing sports betting in Oklahoma was thrown a lifeline March 21 but it might not be enough to save the bill.

The House sent HB 1027 to the Senate after passing it 66-26. The bill calls for the state’s 35 tribes to be able to offer mobile betting apps, as well as retail locations on tribal land.

“We feel like this is a win-win. What it does is just add sports betting to the games that a tribe can compete with to provide under the gaming compact,” said the bill’s co-sponsor Rep. Ken Luttrell in a statement. “I’m excited that my colleagues saw the economic advantages to this.”

The bill is now in the hands of the Senate and they have until March 27. The Senate does not seem that motivated to move that quickly. It is thought the Senate would like to thoroughly debate the issue and might not be able to get it through by the deadline.

“Like everything, I want to approach it in a methodical manner, but my position has not changed: I’m not interested in moving that by itself,” Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat told The Frontier. “I think it needs to be handled in a way that’s respectful of our tribal nations. It needs to be above board and something that is a win-win for the state of Oklahoma and our 39 tribes.”