Sports Betting Legalization Update: Where Things Stand in Arizona, Georgia & New York

Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images. Pictured: Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey.

Three of the most significant mobile sports betting legalization candidates could be near statewide mobile sports betting by the end of next week.

Mobile sports betting backers in Arizona, Georgia and New York are confident they can push their respective legislation past the proverbial finish line, but complex and at times emotionally charged negotiations are still ongoing. It’s too early to tell how these negotiations will end in any state, but all three face crucial legislative deadlines next week, meaning their respective fates will be all but sealed by the beginning of April.

Here’s where these states stand heading into the most consequential week for sports betting legislation in 2021 — and what could be one of the most important stretches in the roughly three years since the Supreme Court struck down the federal wagering ban.

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Arizona

Status: The House of Representatives easily passed a mobile sports betting bill backed by Gov. Doug Ducey, tribal gaming stakeholders, sportsbook operators and professional sports teams. The Senate has not taken any further action.

Background: The House-passed mobile sports betting legislation opposes a similar bill that also legalizes historic horse racing terminals. The aforementioned gaming stakeholders oppose the historic horse racing terminals, which critics say act like slot machines, and their legalization could threaten multi-year gaming compact negotiations between the governor and Arizona gaming tribes. This impasse has stalled sports betting legalization for months.

What To Watch For: Sen. David Gowan, the influential former Arizona House Speaker and powerful Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman, sponsors the historic horse racing legislation and has helped stall the House-passed bill. Senate President Karen Fann, with Ducey’s backing, is reportedly trying to circumvent Gowan’s opposition and bring the bill to the full Senate.

Bottom Line: The House bill’s backers believe there are enough Senate votes for passage if it can make it to the floor. Proponents such as Fann must now work through historic horse racing proponents — and a myriad of other unrelated legislative issues — before next week’s session deadlines.

Georgia

Status: The Senate passed a sports betting constitutional ballot measure and its companion regulation bill. The House advanced both bills from committee, but they were removed from a possible full floor vote earlier this week.

Background: Backed by Georgia’s professional sports teams, the legislature’s sports betting supporters have slowly advanced legislation that would enable Peach State voters to approve wagering on the 2022 ballot. Conservative and anti-gambling lawmakers have stalled the bill, and notably stripped in-state college betting provisions, and remain a major political stumbling block.

What To Watch For: The sports betting bills were also briefly tied up with a highly controversial voting bill after some NBA players criticized the legislation during All-Star Game events in Atlanta earlier this month. The NBA, via the Atlanta Hawks, has pushed for legal betting and several lawmakers said this had impacted their stance on the wagering bill. With the emotionally heated voting bill passed, this could open the door for the sports betting legislation.

Bottom Line: Removing the sports betting bills from the floor calendar should not encourage its proponents. It could give backers a chance to work through issues, but Georgia’s legislative session expires next week and there’s little time to resolve any differences. More often than not, delays like these are designed to kill the bill, which still faces significant conservative opposition. The constitutional amendment bill must pass with two-thirds support in the House to go on the 2022 ballot. If not, legal wagering may not come to Georgia until 2025 at the earliest.

New York

Status: Both the Senate and Assembly passed online sports betting authorization within their respective budget bills for the first time ever. The two chambers must rectify all discrepancies between their respective proposals and pass identical versions of the $200 billion budget by April 1.

Background: Democrats, who control both the legislature and the governor’s mansion, largely support statewide mobile wagering. The issue is lawmakers’ preferred competitive online operator market and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s single or limited operator plan. This divide has stalled mobile betting authorization for months.

What To Watch For: Gaming stakeholders are waiting anxiously to see if Cuomo, the powerful third-term governor now rocked by multiple political and possibly criminal scandals, will back down from his preferred version. Budget bills are notoriously complex and secretive, so it’s hard to gauge where the two factions stand heading into the state-mandated budget deadline. Notably, New York online sports betting would generate a projected $500 million for the $200 billion budget. Though politically eye-catching, it carries negligible financial impact in the far more consequential discussions around the nation’s largest state budget.

Bottom Line: Competitive model backers hope this comparatively minor issue, and Cuomo’s weakened political stature, could help their preferred model pass. Cuomo is still a towering political figure, and it’s too early to tell if he will force through the limited model — or ruin mobile sports betting hopes by excluding it from the budget. By April 1, sports betting hopefuls should know if New York will allow multiple online operators, one operator – or, in a worst-case scenario, none.

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