Le­gal­ized sports bet­ting un­likely in 3 largest US states

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Obituaries - BY GE­OFF MULVIHILL As­so­ci­ated Press

Over the past decade, teams from Cal­i­for­nia, Florida or Texas have com­peted in more than half the cham­pi­onship se­ries in the four ma­jor pro­fes­sional sports – in­clud­ing every NBA fi­nal.

That may be no sur­prise, con­sid­er­ing the three states ac­count for 27 per­cent of all fran­chises in those leagues. The sheer num­ber of teams and their rel­a­tive suc­cess make them fer­tile ter­ri­tory for le­gal­iz­ing sports gam­bling now that the U.S. Supreme Court has al­lowed every state to of­fer it.

“These states are the brass rings given the size of the pop­u­la­tions and the po­ten­tial op­por­tu­nity,” said Sara Slane, a spokes­woman for the Amer­i­can Gam­ing As­so­ci­a­tion.

So far, that ring re­mains elu­sive.

A 50-state re­view of sports gam­bling leg­is­la­tion by The As­so­ci­ated Press re­veals that le­gal­iza­tion ef­forts are nonex­is­tent or very un­likely to hap­pen any­time soon in the na­tion’s three most pop­u­lous states, which to­gether hold more than a quar­ter of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion.

The rea­sons vary. In Cal­i­for­nia and Florida, pow­er­ful tribal in­ter­ests that con­trol most casino gam­bling are re­luc­tant to re­open their agree­ments with the state and po­ten­tially share the gam­bling mar­ket with other play­ers, in­clud­ing card rooms and race tracks.

In Texas, a com­bi­na­tion of po­lit­i­cal clout from out-of-state casino in­ter­ests and so­cial con­ser­va­tives who are morally op­posed to gam­bling have ef­fec­tively killed any prospects for le­gal­ized sports bet­ting.

In all three states, any at­tempt to al­low sports gam­bling would likely re­quire a statewide vote to amend the con­sti­tu­tion – a high hur­dle for any is­sue, much less an ex­pan­sion of gam­bling.

“The dy­namic at work here is the larger the state, the larger the mar­ket, the larger the op­por­tu­nity – the more com­plex the stake­holder en­vi­ron­ment and the more po­lit­i­cal sta­sis sets in,” said Chris Grove, manag­ing direc­tor of gam­bling re­search firm Eil­ers and Kre­j­cik.

Sports gam­bling is now le­gal in eight states, in­clud­ing Ne­vada, which had a mo­nop­oly be­fore the high court rul­ing last spring.

Arkansas, New York and the Dis­trict of Columbia also have le­gal­ized sports gam­bling in some form and are work­ing on reg­u­la­tions be­fore bets can be placed, while at least 22 other states are con­sid­er­ing bills to le­gal­ize it. Ad­vo­cates think the leg­is­la­tion has a re­al­is­tic chance of pass­ing in about half those states.

Cal­i­for­nia, which alone ac­counts for one-eighth of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion and has 16 teams among the four ma­jor pro­fes­sional leagues, will not be join­ing the sports gam­bling states any­time soon.

Gam­bling there is largely con­trolled by casi­no­op­er­at­ing tribes that have com­pacts with the state. The tribes that are part of the Cal­i­for­nia Na­tions In­dian Gam­ing As­so­ci­a­tion op­pose an ex­pan­sion of gam­bling even though it could bring more traf­fic to their casi­nos, said Steve Stallings, the group’s chair­man.

The group is in the midst of a dis­pute with the state’s card rooms and doesn’t want to see more com­pe­ti­tion for the tribes by open­ing a de­bate over sports bet­ting.

“We feel like pro­tect­ing the in­dus­try in Cal­i­for­nia is more im­por­tant,” he said.

Just in case it does be­come le­gal, the United Auburn In­dian Com­mu­nity struck a deal last year with a joint ven­ture of casino com­pany MGM and on­line gam­bling com­pany GVC to run the sports­book at its Thun­der Val­ley Casino Re­sort, north­east of Sacra­mento.

Even so, the tribe doesn’t want that to hap­pen, said Howard Dick­stein, the lawyer who ne­go­ti­ated the deal on the tribe’s be­half.

“The tribe is not a strong ad­vo­cate of le­gal­iz­ing sports bet­ting un­der any cir­cum­stance,” he said. “The agree­ment with MGM is an in­sur­ance pol­icy to be­come al­lied with a leader if and when it be­comes le­gal in Cal­i­for­nia.”

In Florida, a ma­jor casino-op­er­at­ing tribe also is a key fac­tor.

Last year, vot­ers agreed to make it tougher to ex­pand gam­bling with a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment that re­quires 60 per­cent voter ap­proval for any fu­ture ex­pan­sion of gam­bling in the state. The mea­sure’s sup­port­ers in­cluded Dis­ney, whose Or­lando re­sort is a ma­jor eco­nomic force, and the Semi­nole Tribe, which owns seven of Florida’s eight tribal casi­nos.

State Se­nate Pres­i­dent Bill Gal­vano, a Repub­li­can, said he be­lieves sports bet­ting could be le­gal­ized with­out voter ap­proval, al­though he said he might ask for it any­way. He said broader gam­bling leg­is­la­tion is be­ing de­vel­oped that would al­low wa­ger­ing, likely at race­tracks, tribal casi­nos and per­haps in some form at sports venues.

“Sports bet­ting has been tak­ing place here, as it has other places, just not reg­u­lated and taxed,” he said.

Any at­tempt to push through le­gal­iza­tion in Florida with­out voter ap­proval would hit op­po­si­tion and likely trig­ger a law­suit, said John Sowin­ski, who led the cam­paign for last year’s con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment and leads the group No Casi­nos.

“Any sort of sober anal­y­sis of any type of gam­bling finds it doesn’t add any­thing to the econ­omy,” he said. “It’s ba­si­cally par­a­sitic.”

STEVE CAN­NON AP

Florida state Se­nate Pres­i­dent Bill Gal­vano, R-Bradenton, said he be­lieves sports bet­ting could be le­gal­ized in the state with­out voter ap­proval, al­though he said he might ask for it any­way.

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