Year in Review: Five 2021 Sports Betting Storylines That Will Crossover into 2022

Posted on: December 31, 2021, 02:56h. 

Last updated on: December 31, 2021, 03:22h.

As we bid adieu to 2021 and prepare to usher in 2022, it’s a good time to look back on what’s occurred in the world of sports betting and where the industry stands in the US.

Times Square 2022
Preparations are underway for the annual New Year’s celebration at New York City’s Times Square. New York was one of several states that passed legislation that either legalized or expanded sports betting in 2021, and mobile wagering should be rolled out statewide in the coming weeks. (Image: ABC7 New York)

Sports betting is legal and available in some fashion in 30 US states, as well as the District of Columbia. Two other states – Nebraska and Ohio – have legalized it, but do have any sportsbooks operational just yet.

Then, there’s Florida, which started and paused sports betting in the course of a month.

The state legalized sports betting this year as it amended the gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe. The compact gave the Seminoles exclusive statewide rights to brick-and-mortar sportsbooks and mobile wagering.

Two pari-mutuel operators sued the federal government after the Interior Department failed to issue a decision on the compact after its 45-day review. It was a move that deemed the compact legal to the extent it complied with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). Magic City Casino and Bonita Springs Poker Room argued statewide sports betting violated the act, since it included bets placed off tribal lands.

Seminole Gaming launched the Hard Rock Sportsbook app on Nov. 1. But later that month, US District Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled in favor of the pari-mutuel operators. In doing so, she tossed aside the entire compact, and not just off-tribal land sports betting provisions.

The Hard Rock app remained operational for a couple of weeks after the ruling, as the Seminole Tribe sought a stay on the order. It was finally suspended earlier this month after a federal appeals court denied the stay.

The case remains in the courts, as the Seminole Tribe has appealed Friedrich’s ruling. That means one of the highest-profile sports betting stories in 2021 will remain one for 2022 as well, since both state and tribal leaders may need to draw up a new agreement.

Meanwhile, as the gaming compact remains in limbo, DraftKings and FanDuel are pushing a petition to get a broader sports betting measure on the 2022 general election ballot. They have until Feb. 1 to submit more than 890,000 valid signatures needed to take the question to voters.

Florida was just one of the states that made headlines with sports betting. Here’s a look back at other key states and the progress – or lack thereof – they achieved this year.

New York Passes Mobile with a High Cost

New York has had legal sports betting since 2019, but it has been limited to the upstate commercial and tribal casinos. With no licensed online apps or retail sportsbooks in the New York City area, downstate sports bettors either crossed the Hudson River to New Jersey, or used an illegal bookie or offshore app.

While there had been calls for New York to expand sports betting to include online apps, Gov. Andrew Cuomo rebuffed them. That changed in late 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic put the state – according to Cuomo – on the brink of a multibillion dollar budget shortfall.

But rather than license mobile apps like most states, Cuomo pushed for a complex bidding process. That tactic let applicants set the tax rate, but included rules to ensure the rate was at least 50 percent. That was on top of a $25 million license fee.

Cuomo would resign from office because of unrelated scandals shortly after the solicitation was released. But by that time, the state had committed to the process. In all, six proposals were submitted, representing a total of 13 sports betting operators.

In the end, New York would choose to award licenses to platform providers representing nine apps. Those are Bally Bet, BetMGM, BetRivers, Caesars Interactive, DraftKings, FanDuel, PointsBet, Resorts World, and WynnBET.

Officials are hopeful the operators will launch before the Super Bowl, and are likely to arrive sometime in January.

While Florida has a slightly larger population, New York will almost assuredly become the nation’s leading sports betting market, considering its gross domestic product is more than 50 percent larger ($1.89 trillion to $1.22 trillion) than Florida. Only California and Texas have larger economies.

Competing Measures Battling in California

Speaking of California, the Golden State also made news with sports betting in 2021. However, we’ll have to wait until the 2022 general election in November to determine if proponents – and which proponents at that – succeed.

Much like the Gold Rush from the mid-1800s, there’s been a lot of action in the state this past year from various stakeholders looking to make a fortune in the country’s largest state.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the state’s tribal gaming operators pushed for a retail-only sports betting initiative that would also grant licenses to California’s four thoroughbred racetracks. The pandemic delayed the petition drive, which succeeded. However, it got pushed back to the upcoming election.

That means odds are strong it will face some competition on the ballot. Petitions are being circulated on two measures proposed by commercial gaming interests.

Cardroom casinos and their proponents are pushing a measure that would allow them, racetracks, tribal casinos, and professional sports teams to offer retail and online sports betting. The measure would also allow the state-licensed cardrooms to offer traditional casino card games instead of the offshoots they must offer now.

Shortly after the cardrooms announced their proposal, a group of sports betting operators announced their $100 million campaign to legalize sports betting. Under their plan, licenses would cost $100 million, although tribal casinos could get a license for $10 million provided the app used their name or trademark.

Tribal gaming interests have been critical of both commercial proposals. Rather than accept overtures from the sportsbooks to join forces, select tribal operators are pushing yet another proposal. That pitch currently awaits approval from state officials so as to begin circulating a petition for inclusion in the November 2022 ballot.

Already, two cardroom operators have filed suit seeking to block the previously approved tribal proposal measure from being printed on the 2022 ballot. That may not be the only lawsuit in a campaign that may rival some political elections.

Should multiple sports betting measures make the ballot, the negative campaigning against rival measures could lead to all of them failing. Tribal leaders have noted the only measure of theirs that failed in recent years came when a rival cardroom measure, which also failed, was on the ballot, too.

Ohio Finally Passes Sports Betting

Another major state that had been on the sidelines when it comes to sports betting was Ohio. But earlier this month, lawmakers there finally reached a consensus on a bill that Gov. Mike DeWine signed into law.

The law allows mobile betting apps, but legislators are hopeful that an expansive network of retail sportsbooks could spur economic growth in mid-sized-to-large cities in the state. Already, Rush Street Interactive has announced it will open a brick-and-mortar sportsbook at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton.

The state’s casinos and professional sports franchises will vie for mobile licenses that will also allow them to offer retail venues as well. In addition, certain by-the-drink liquor establishments will be able to install sports betting kiosks on their premises. However, the kiosks will be somewhat limited in their offerings compared to the online apps and retail establishments.

It’s likely sports betting in The Buckeye State could kick off around the start of football season next year.

Can Massachusetts Pass Sports Betting in ’22?

One state that did not get it done in ’21 was Massachusetts.

The state House of Representatives passed a legalization bill by a 156-3 vote in July. It was the second year in a row that the House approved a measure. But again, it stalled in the Senate, where there seems to be less enthusiasm for the measure.

The legislature continues the current session of the General Court next week, and state Sen. John Cronin, D-Lunenburg told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette that now may be the time.

He understands that proponents have wanted it sooner. But he added that lawmakers have had to deal with other priorities, such as funding mental health and allocating federal dollars from COVID-19 relief bills.

People have been frustrated that we haven’t taken up sports betting. But I think those, from where I stand, have been far more urgent matter than taking up the gambling bill in the Senate,” Cronin said.

Besides the state House, Gov. Charlie Baker (R) has been a proponent of legalized sports betting, and has been perplexed by its holdup on Beacon Hill.