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Will Sports Betting Ever Be Legal Across all 50 states?

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Whenever a trend starts growing, people immediately start talking about the limits of this growth. One such trend is sports betting. Over the years, more and more states have legalized sports betting, with virtually no instances of repealing this type of law. In other words, once legalized, sports betting is there to stay. 

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Currently, 36 states allow sports betting, with four legalizing it over the last two years (so, there’s a growing trend). This raises a question – will sports betting ever be legal across all 50 states? While we don’t have a crystal ball, here are some hard facts and specialist opinions on the subject matter. 

The strongest arguments for sports betting legalization?

The first thing worth mentioning is that 19% of adult Americans already use sports betting apps (yearly). While this is a decent average, it’s not enough to sway the popular vote. 

The thing is that a lot of states don’t even have to put this up for the popular vote. The tax revenue from legalizing sports is incentive enough for the state, while people living in states where sports betting is still not legal are doing it anyway. There are so many offshore options available in 2023, and people are already using them. It’s just that the state is missing out on its tax revenue—instead, it goes to the nation where the sportsbook is licenced.

Many people already use streaming services to watch sports from around the globe, so using an international betting site doesn’t mean stepping too much out of their way. At the same time, they would surely use a local option if it was available. This way, they would know that it complies with all the local rules and regulations.

Also, even states like California, which hasn’t yet legalized sports betting, have a completely legal system of betting on horse races—parimutuel betting. In principle, this is sports betting, which is why (even though it failed to pass in 2022 and is unlikely to until 2024) legalizing all sports betting shouldn’t be a huge leap.

What are the biggest challenges?

While we did point out California as a state that’s still on the fence (albeit slightly on the other side), the legalization of sports betting in this state is more-or-less inevitable. There are, however, some states which might stay firm in their current anti-betting stance regardless of the trend or current benefits. 

Some of these states are:

  • Utah: This state has a long history of anti-betting laws. There’s no state lottery or betting on horse races in this state. Most would argue that this state has the lowest chance of ever legalizing sports betting.
  • Hawaii: In Hawaii, there are no tribal casinos (even though, in theory, there could be) due to anti-betting solid opposition. A lack of popular support (as we’ve stated out) is one thing, but strong opposition is something else entirely. Like Utah, Hawaii has no legal forms of gambling whatsoever.
  • Alaska: There are two reasons why sports betting still isn’t legal in Alaska. First, it’s a historically conservative state with strong anti-betting sentiment. Second, it’s a state with a relatively small population, meaning campaigning and lobbying to push this law through might not be cost-effective. The only gambling activities that are currently legal in Alaska are betting on dog-sledding and bingo, and both only when run through charities. Fantasy sports is also permitted in the state, but there’s still a long way to go before gambling is widely accepted and legalized.

To make a long story short, the biggest challenges are mostly public perception and regulatory framework. Sure, there are many concerns regarding the integrity of sports and problem betting (addiction). However, as we’ve already stated, betting already exists, and even people from states where gambling is illegal are actively betting. In other words, pragmatically speaking, these factors are not as big of an obstacle as one might assume. 

A path forward

If there were ever a swing state regarding this issue, it would be Wyoming. Historically, the opposition to this trend was strong, but since neighboring Colorado and Montana legalized sports betting, the attitudes started shifting. In September 2021, Wyoming legalized online sports betting.

While this may happen in many states still on the fence, it’s hard to imagine something like this happening in Hawaii or Utah. Does this mean sports betting will never be legal in all 50 states? Of course not! It just means that this historical process may take a while longer. Whether or not sports betting will ever be legal in all 50 states still hangs in the air; however, betting is already present in every single one in some shape or form.