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The Great Divide: Unraveling the Secrets Behind Delayed Gambling Legalization in Some States and Thriving Success Stories in Others

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When the United States Supreme Court voted to lift a federal ban on sports gambling and leave the matter up to individual state governments and voters to decide in May of 2018 (overturning a law that had stood since the early 1990s in the process) a snowball effect quickly began.

At the time, Nevada was the only state in the union to offer legal sports betting, owing to its long-protected status stemming from the influence of casinos in Las Vegas and Reno. From there, other states began to pass their own laws endorsing the pastime, slowly at first before reaching a peak during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic as struggling state economies found a way to push the bills through the state chambers despite previous moral and financial reservations. Since then, the wave of legalization has slowed down quite a bit: with 33 of 50 states (and Washington D.C.) all ruling to legalize sports better in some form or fashion, the battle is largely won.

Still, there remains room for expansion. While most of those 33 states fully legalized sports betting (including both retail wagering options at physical sportsbooks, and the ability to bet online from the comfort of your home, office, or wherever else you desire at any of the myriad sports betting apps offered in the United States, some of the states to legalize sports betting continue to place limits on what (or how) you can wager.

For instance, many states limit wagers placed on college sports, owing to the athletes’ protected status as amateurs, but that is starting to change because of the groundbreaking Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) legislation that the NCAA passed in 2021, allowing college athletes to profit off of those aforementioned characteristics through endorsement deals.

That is starting to change in the typically socially conservative South, though, owing to the power (and robust viewing and commercial market) that college sports possess in the Deep South thanks to programs like LSU, the University of Alabama, and the University of Georgia: whether the Midwest (with the Big Ten) or the Northeast (where pro sports reign supreme) follow that trend will be interesting to see. Another trend to watch centers around markets that haven’t always been considered sports traditionally. As of right now, some sports are contemplating legislation to add esports to the list of sports you can bet on: think of the popularity of streamers in video games like Fortnite and Call of Duty, and it’s easy to see why that move is a slam dunk waiting to happen for all parties involved.

The more betting events that states endorse, be it college sports betting, e-sports betting or another market not yet discovered, the more profit states will continue to reap.

Here’s a look at what the current battlegrounds in the fight to legalize sports betting are, including which states could be next to endorse the pastime.

While the sports betting industry has already claimed a majority of the states, they’re still missing the three biggest by population: California, Texas, and Florida. Obviously, that means there’s a massive untapped market for those states, their people (and, of course, the sportsbooks themselves) to take advantage of.

Florida actually legalized sports betting on paper a couple of years ago, but the sportsbooks had to shut down after a short period of operation because of a lawsuit against the Sunshine State for violating federal law in the form of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act by giving the state’s Seminole Tribe jurisdiction on sports betting taking place outside of the Tribe’s sovereign territory (as many of the servers for gambling sites were set to be placed on Tribe territory—and, therefore, under their jurisdiction—something that casino operators elsewhere in the state didn’t like).

The issue has been tied up in the federal courts for the better part of two years now, with no way forward until the two sides receive a ruling or reach a settlement. Until that happens, there won’t be an opportunity for the sportsbooks to launch again. Over in California, the most populous state in the union, the issue is the voters rather than the state legislature. California voters largely don’t want to legalize sports betting, so you can be sure that bookies will continue to pour as much advertising money as possible into the Golden State in an attempt to change voters’ minds.

A measure to legalize sports betting failed recently in Texas, as the state’s Republican-controlled Senate shot down a bill that made its way through the Lone Star State’s House of Representatives. We’ll likely have to wait until the 2024 voting cycle to see them try again, but after several years of failure, it could take turnover in the state government to spark change.

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