US sports betting: Successes and failures

Since the Supreme Court striking down the PASPA Act in 2018, the state of sports betting in the US has undergone a dramatic change. Since then, numerous US states have allowed sports betting, with some states that got started swiftly, such as New Jersey and Philadelphia, now reaping the rewards of a multi-billion-dollar industry, and others, like Illinois, catching up quickly.

Yet, the progress of the sports betting sector has been uneven across the country. While most states have at least considered legalization, some have failed to make progress, being bogged down in legal and technical problems. Here are some of the successes and failures of sports betting in the US.

New Jersey – Success

Although it took a lengthy and difficult procedure to legalize sports betting in NJ, the state’s decision to appeal to the US Supreme Court when its initial attempts were blocked ultimately resulted in the legalization of sports betting throughout the US.

After sports betting was approved, things moved rapidly. In June 2018, a NJ sports betting bill was approved, which allowed the state’s racetracks and casinos to set up on-site retail sportsbooks. A few days later, the first live wager was made.

Since then, the state has become the industry benchmark in the US for legal online sports betting. In fact, since June 2018, it has experienced rapid growth, and now has over 20 sports betting apps available. The most competitive and sophisticated sports betting market in the US, it has generated $1.8bn in revenue and handled $28.5bn from sports bettors to date.

Tennessee – Success

Although Tennessee did not immediately pursue legalization in 2018, things changed the following year when a sports betting bill passed the State Legislature and sports betting was declared lawful in June 2019. From there, it took a while before sports betting could begin in the state. The next year, laws and rules were eventually put in place, and online sportsbooks began operating in November 2020.

The most interesting aspect of the Tennessee sports betting sector is that it is entirely online, making it a rare case in the US sports betting sector where in-person betting is the usual model. By being one of the first southern states to legalize, Tennessee has also been able to draw customers from some of the surrounding states, as Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky and Missouri have no sports betting sector, while Arkansas does not allow mobile wagers. 

California – Failure

The most populous state in the US is home to millions of sports fans and some of the most iconic sports franchises in the US, and was one of the first to attempt to legalize sports betting, bringing forward a measure as early as 2017. As of the summer of 2022, there is still no legal sports betting in California.

Further bills in 2019 and 2020 failed and the current situation is that two sports betting proposals will be up for the vote in this year’s November elections. Even if one of these measures passes, there is likely to be ongoing delay, as the process of negotiating gambling compacts, licensing, rules and regulations will take many months, while time-consuming lawsuits are also a distinct possibility.

Meanwhile, sports betting fans who want to wager on their favorite teams must cross the border to Oregon, Nevada or Arizona, taking their dollars and potential tax revenue with them. 

Florida – Failure

In many ways, the sports betting situation in the third most populous US state replicates that of California, with a tangled web of political maneuvering and tribal negotiations conspiring to frustrate attempts to develop a potentially lucrative sports betting sector.

Unlike in California, however, Florida did, briefly, get sports betting off the ground. Legalization in the state depends on a deal with the Seminole tribe, which appeared to be concluded in April 2021. The deal was approved in May and the Hard Rock company launched their sports betting operation.

However, just one month after launch, Hard Rock had to withdraw their sports betting app after legal action by local groups. They argued that the legalization process had violated the state constitution by not giving voters the chance to approve it. There were also claims that it was in breach of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Since neither neighboring Georgia nor Alabama allows sports betting, the potential loss of tax revenue to the state of Florida is not as big an issue as it is in California, but the inability of the state to get sports betting off the ground four years after PASPA has to count as a failure.