Sports Betting’s March Through the U.S. Has Slowed in the South; Will it Change in 2022?

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Sports Betting’s March Through the U.S. Has Slowed in the South; Will it Change in 2022?
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Note: This is part of a series of articles on what the sports betting landscape will look like in 2022.

The march of online sports gambling across the United States has been impressively swift but in terms of geography, the most difficult terrain for mobile sports betting to take root has been that part of the country generally considered to be the traditional South.

Southern Sports Betting Slow to Start

Among Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee and Virginia, just two – Tennessee and Virginia – have launched online sports betting. In a twist on the sports gambling narrative, neither state has retail sports betting for the moment.

Other states of the South, such as Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Mississippi and Arkansas have retail sports betting operating. Louisiana has also legalized online but has yet to flip the switch as brands like BetMGM Louisiana are waiting. Additionally, Arkansas online sports betting is edging closer.

However, the three most populous states in the South – Texas, Florida and Georgia – have no sports gambling at all and the immediate outlooks are murky to dim.

Here’s a look at the prospects for sports gambling In America’s southland.

The Sure-fires

Voters in several Virginia cities have already voted to allow casinos and some are likely to open in late 2022 or early 2023.

As an example, construction on a temporary Hard Rock Casino in Bristol with 30,000-square feet of gaming space began last month with major expansion plans on the drawing board.

Online sports betting operations in Virginia and Tennessee are humming along nicely.

By the way, that Bristol casino is right on the Virginia-Tennessee state line so it will be interesting to see the reaction in the Volunteer State to those Tennessee license plates in the Virginia casino’s parking lot considering Tennesseans already have been patronizing Tunica casinos and contributing to Mississippi coffers for years.

Meanwhile, Louisiana, which has been rolling out sportsbooks in casinos across the state’s many parishes since 2021, has every intention of starting online sports betting in 2022 and there’s no reason to believe it won’t happen. It’s just that things seem to take a little longer in Louisiana.

The Almost For-sure

The Arkansas Racing Commission has greenlighted online sports betting but now the Arkansas Legislative Council will weigh in at the end of January.

A thorny issue is a mandate that 51% of sports betting revenue stay with the state’s casinos, a requirement that chafes national sportsbooks who will actually operate the online betting.

The Wait-and-See Group

North Carolina has been discussing online sports wagering for a few years.

Already, there are sportsbooks in some tribal casinos there. Online sports betting has bi-partisan support in the state with a Democratic governor and Republican-dominated legislature but apart from party politics, the social-values constituency in North Carolina is influential.

The state Senate has already approved a bi-partisan-sponsored sports wagering bill that’s making its way through various committees in the state House. So far, legislative votes on the issue have been close.

Mississippi is a curious case because it was one of the first states to allow retail sportsbooks in casinos following the repeal in 2018 of the federal law that had prohibited most states from having that type of gambling. (As a footnote, the Beau Rivage Casino in Biloxi has on-premises digital sports gambling).

Legislation has already been introduced in the Mississippi legislature for genuine statewide mobile sports betting and the reality that may push it across the goal line is that Tennessee to the north already has it and soon, Louisiana to the west will also offer online. A key in moving such legislation will be protecting Mississippi’s more than two dozen bricks-and-mortar casinos in the process.

The Longshots

Legalizing gambling, in general, comes up annually in Georgia and you can count on the state’s pro sports franchises making pilgrimages to the legislature to promote sports gambling in 2022.

The road apparently includes a constitutional amendment and a referendum. And if that sounds like a long road, it is.

Regarding South Carolina, let’s put it simply. Not happening.

The Biggies

Florida’s quest for sports gambling has evolved into an epic saga.

In 2021, Florida had online sports gambling for about a heartbeat (well, actually about a month).

It was prompted by a deal between Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe of Florida that would have allowed the Seminoles to dominate sports gambling in the state in return for guaranteed billions to the state.

However, other prospective interested parties, both inside and outside Florida, as well as anti-gambling foes weren’t so keen on the idea.

In a federal court challenge, the DeSantis-Seminole deal was slapped down.

Now, it appears that the path to sports gambling in Florida will go through the ballot box via referendum. Get your popcorn.

The Texas legislature doesn’t meet in 2022, so that settles that for this year.

Looking ahead to 2023 and beyond, Texas’ pro sports franchises and national sports gambling companies are cranking up the lobbying machinery for a run at the second-largest state in the country.

Quite possibly, Texas could be the rare (but not unique) instance of a state introducing sports betting without a traditional casino industry already established.

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