Will California Be The Last ‘Blue’ State To Legalize Sports Betting?

Written By Steven Schult on March 9, 2023 - Last Updated on March 29, 2023
California last blue state with sports betting

California is seen as the most progressive state in the U.S. So it is a shock that it’s one of the handful of states that have failed to make any meaningful progress on sports betting. But should it?

In the larger picture of government and the law, the history of online gambling is incredibly short.

The internet has only been around for a few decades. Consequently, the political trends and legal precedence surrounding online industries have barely been established.

However, a Republican-controlled Congress in 2006 attached the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act to a port security bill. And Republican President George W. Bush signed it into law. The UIGEA became one of the key pieces of legislation that resulted in the end of the U.S. poker boom in 2011.

As a result, gamblers developed the general mantra that the more socially conservative party would be more inclined to restrict internet gambling.

But since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned PASPA nearly five years ago, that framework has shifted.

Since the decision, 35 states and Washington, D.C., either have legal sports betting in some form or passed legislation to launch it in the future. Of those jurisdictions, 15 went for former President Donald Trump in the 2020 election.

California is one of five “blue” states without sports betting

Even Republican strongholds like Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee have sports betting markets. On the other hand, voters in California, arguably the ‘bluest’ state in the country, voted overwhelmingly against two sports betting initiatives last November.

It’s unlikely California sports betting will hold out forever. But will it be the last blue state to allow its citizens to bet on sports?

Based on the 2020 electoral college map, lawmakers in five blue states have yet to pass sports betting legislation.

Georgia, Minnesota, Vermont, Hawaii and California are the only states that both cast their electoral college votes for President Joe Biden and currently lack regulated sports betting.

How does California stack up against the other four?

Vermont shows the most promise

The Green Mountain State will likely be the next one out of this group.

Vermont’s electoral votes went to Biden in a landslide after more than two-thirds of the state voted for the former Vice President.

Despite the overwhelming support for a Democratic president, the state has a Republican governor. But Gov. Phil Scott appears to support legalization.

Earlier this year, Scott said sports betting would generate millions in new tax revenue. And Rep. Matthew Birong introduced legislation last month that would legalize online sports betting.

Furthermore, there aren’t any casinos or racetracks in the state. In other words, no powerful lobbying groups are fighting to change the proposal.

As an added bonus to Vermont sports betting hopefuls, it’s the only state in the northeast without it. Therefore, there’s unlikely to be a public backlash against the bill’s passing.

It’s hard to find a way in which Vermont doesn’t leave this group very soon.

There are at least ongoing efforts in Georgia

Georgia doesn’t look like a slam dunk to legalize in the immediate future. But lawmakers in the state are, at the bare minimum, proposing legislation and discussing the issue.

Like Vermont, Georgia sent its electoral votes to Biden, albeit narrowly, but also elected a Republican governor.

Gov. Brian Kemp said he would work with lawmakers on sports betting measures. Thus, he would likely sign legislation that got to his desk.

Getting to his desk seems to be the problem.

The latest sports betting bills died in the Georgia legislature Monday. The Senate voted against a bill allowing betting, while the House didn’t even get its proposal on the floor for a vote.

Even among lawmakers who appear to support legalization, they can’t agree on whether it requires a constitutional amendment.

On the bright side, there have been efforts to pass legislation over the last several years. Based on available polling data, voters seem to favor legal sports betting by a narrow margin.

It looks like Georgia wants to allow sports betting but can’t get out of its own way.

Minnesota suffers from similar problems as California

States with some form of legal sports wagering surround Minnesota. And the state nearly passed legislation last year that would’ve allowed it.

But like California, the state’s Native American Tribes carry a lot of lobbying power. Most reports indicate these tribes won’t support a bill that doesn’t give them a monopoly over the industry.

When the legislature altered the 2022 legislation to allow horse tracks to operate sportsbooks, the tribes pulled their support for the bill.

The situation is reminiscent of what happened in the Golden State. California Tribes want control of the market. As a result, they spent hundreds of millions to make sure Prop 27, which would’ve allowed large online operators like FanDuel and DraftKings into the market, failed last year.

But in Minnesota, sports betting will be legalized through legislation. Not a ballot initiative. Which makes them much more likely to overcome these hurdles before California does.

At the end of February, a Minnesota sports betting bill made it out of a House committee. The bill would give the tribes control over the industry. It still has a long way to go and will face pushback from lobbyists representing the tracks.

But at least it’s moving in the direction of legalization.

There’s little hope in Hawaii

Hawaii is essentially the Democratic version of Utah. There is no legal gambling of any kind on the islands, and the legislature doesn’t appear ready to change that any time soon.

Last year, Rep. John Mizuno introduced a sports betting bill. But there wasn’t much discussion about it. It would take a massive shift in the legislative landscape to see Hawaii sports betting in the near future.

Where does California rank?

California’s biggest problem is how many powerful entities want to grab a piece of what would almost certainly be the largest sports betting market in the country.

Those entities have a ton of lobbying power. Therefore, a ballot initiative is the most likely way forward for California sports betting under current conditions.

Vermont is the clear favorite of the five to be the next sports betting launch. But since Georgia and Minnesota are working within their legislative system, they will likely launch ahead of California as well.

Hawaii? Well… at least California won’t be dead last.

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Steven Schult

Steve serves as managing editor for PlayCA and a handful of other sites across Catena Media. The New York native is a veteran of the gambling world. He started covering high-stakes tournaments in 2009 for some of poker's most prominent media outlets before adding the broader US gaming market to his beat in 2018.

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