Sports betting history being made in real time throughout the country By John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports February 11, 2019 at 8:00 pm The wheels keep turning in the race to legalize sports betting across America. It’s easy to get caught up in the gold fever that broke out in the wake of last year’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to repeal the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act and start keeping score on a state-by-state basis. However, the fact is the expansion process combines entrenched politics with changing perceptions. In its way, it’s much like what we’ve seen during the spread of legalized marijuana use. What only a few years ago seemed impossible has gradually morphed into an inevitability despite hardball political opposition, societal stigma, and pushback at the federal level. Post-PASPA, legal bookmaking figures to gain ground faster with each state that adds sports betting to its list of legal gambling options. Some ongoing battles provide insight into the changes taking place. Kentucky has a long history of sports gambling not only on thoroughbred racing but game betting as well. From Ed Curd to Gil “The Brain” Beckley, some of the biggest names in the shadowed history of sports betting are associated with the commonwealth. So you might think the process of finally legalizing sports betting would be a fairly simple matter. We’ll see. A bill was filed recently in the Kentucky House of Representatives that would legalize sports betting, fantasy sports, and online poker in the state. But it’s helpful to understand that despite all its gambling history Kentucky has pushed back against legalized casinos. (We can discuss its colorful history of illegal casinos another time.) The bill’s sponsor is Republican Adam Koenig of Erlanger. As he explained to TV station WSAZ, “It is new and it is taking off in a lot of states. I’d like to see Kentucky be on the front end of this. It is an opportunity for us to provide something that frankly is done in the shadows all over Kentucky with bookies and you can get on your phone and do it on off shore accounts.” Iowa is another state with its own history of illegal sports gambling. Its political leaders have been more circumspect than some about the prospects of legalization. But that hesitation may be changing with four bills under consideration. Then again, as Republican Sen. Roby Smith of Davenport offered to the Des Moines Register recently, “We’re being very transparent, having a slow process, making sure everybody has ample time to give their thoughts, pros and cons on these different plans.” In Iowa, college sports are king. Any elected official who appears to be moving too swiftly toward legalization and winds up being perceived as promoting something that might endanger the propriety of the games, would be courting political disaster. You bet they’ll take their time. According to the Register, a bill may clear the deck by late February. It probably helped that a battalion of lobbyists representing the state lottery, its casino industry, pro sports leagues, and the horse racing industry have been working the halls. Not on horseback, but all jockeying for position to take control of sports betting when legalization eventually comes. For a state with such a colorful history of illegal sports gambling and a history tied to Las Vegas, Arizona has been surprisingly plodding in moving toward legalization. That may change this year if officials accept the bill offered by Republican Sen. Sonny Borrelli. Arizona’s casinos operate under an exclusive state compact with tribal governments, whose leaders like the idea of legalized bookmaking but don’t want to risk breaking the contract that makes them the only game in town. If Arizona takes the easy road, and simply amends the compact to add sports betting to the list of approved games, you might be able to bet legally on sporting events in the Grand Canyon State before the end of the year. If not – and there are plenty of people who want to see more wide-open model – there could be a pitched battle for control of what figures to be an extremely lucrative market. As with the games themselves, there are no sure things when it comes to predicting when states will add legalized sports betting to their gambling mix. But it’s all playing out in real time in legislatures across the country. Contact John L. Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.