Amid all the drama of the 2020 elections, there was some good news for sports betting fans and for sportsbooks in three US states, where voters decisively gave the green light to sports betting.
Three states gave their voters the chance to have their say in state-wide referendums, in Louisiana, South Dakota, and Maryland, and all three electorates voted yes, while a fourth state, Nebraska, approved a casino gaming measure that could lead to sports betting.
The referendum results in those states represent a theoretical tipping point in the US sports betting industry. For the first time, more than half of the states in the country have legalized sports betting, with Louisiana, South Dakota, and Maryland bringing that number to 27.
Approval doesn’t mean that sports betting is imminent in any of those states. In all cases, the state legislatures will be faced with the task of drawing up the laws and regulations to underpin the new sports betting sectors. But all three are expected to finish the process during 2021, which means that next year is set to be a busy one in the fast-growing sports betting sector.
Of the 27 jurisdictions to permit sports betting, seven have yet to launch, while four include sports betting through tribal licenses only. There is also considerable variation when it comes to online sports betting, with some states, such as New York, permitting only in-person sports betting, while Tennessee, which has no casino sector, has a mobile-only sports betting industry.
Not all of the votes are yet in, but the result in all three states is not in doubt. In Maryland, with all of the election day votes counted, sports betting approval was backed by just over 66% of voters. Sports betting in that state is likely to be based on Bill S4, which proposed both retail and online wagering at the state’s six casinos and three horse tracks, with a 20% tax on bets and a $1.5 million license fee.
In Louisiana, the pro-legalization group Louisiana Wins, which was heavily funded by sports betting operators, announced at around 23:00 local time on election day that they had prevailed. Still, although they had been hopeful of a good outcome, the scale of their victory exceeded all expectations. Out of the state’s 64 parishes, 55 approved sports betting. That is a significant increase on the 47 parishes that approved Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) contests in a similar referendum back in 2018, although the fact that DFS still hasn’t launched in Louisiana is a less encouraging omen.
The vote was closest in South Dakota, where, with 90% of precincts reporting by 07:00 on the day after the election, the vote had passed by a margin of 59% to 41%. The South Dakota referendum specifically proposed legalizing sports betting in the city of Deadwood. But according to the tribal gaming compact, all tribal casinos are permitted to offer any form of gambling or gaming that is legal in commercial casinos, which means that sports betting is likely to be available at the state’s 11 tribal-owned and run casinos.
It remains to be seen whether South Dakota will also authorize mobile sports betting. The referendum referred to ‘sports betting in Deadwood’, which leaves open the possibility that sportsbook companies could house their servers in the city and offer mobile betting throughout the state. Whether that comes to pass now depends on the politicians in the South Dakota legislature.