As many as 18 states could introduce bills this year to legalize and regulate sports betting, according to a report by industry trade group Eilers & Krejcik Gaming.
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Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, which tracks gambling legislation nationwide, says that's just the minimum; the firm predicts more than 30 states could introduce sports betting bills. Of the states that could introduce bills, the firm predicts that 11 have a strong possibility of success.
The U.S. Supreme Court this year will decide a case brought by New Jersey that seeks to overturn a ban on sports betting in all but four states: Delaware, Montana, Nevada and Oregon. A favorable ruling in that case could open the floodgates in terms of states adopting a new form of gambling.
"Assuming a Supreme Court decision or action by Congress permits it, we could see the largest simultaneous expansion of regulated gambling in U.S. history with sports betting in 2018," said Chris Grove, the company's managing director.
The court is expected by June to decide New Jersey's case, which seeks to overturn a ban on sports betting by any state that did not meet a 1991 deadline to legalize it. States and private companies in the U.S. and abroad are already moving quickly to position themselves for a favorable ruling.
Fifty-five percent of Americans said they approve of efforts to legalize sports betting in the country, according to a national poll conducted last September by researchers at UMass-Lowell and the Washington Post. Just 33% of poll respondents said they disapproved of legalization efforts.
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States listed as likely to introduce a sports betting bill are: Massachusetts; Rhode Island; New York; New Jersey; West Virginia; South Carolina; Georgia; Florida; Illinois; Michigan; Iowa; Minnesota; Louisiana; Mississippi; Oklahoma and California. Indiana and Kentucky already have introduced bills.
Pennsylvania and Connecticut have already passed bills. Grove said Delaware is arguing that it doesn't need to pass a bill due to gambling legislation already on the books, and added Mississippi may not need to pass a bill. He said an argument has been made that that state's fantasy sports bill also authorized sports betting.
The report listed 11 states as having a good chance of enacting sports betting bills this year: Massachusetts; Rhode Island; New York; New Jersey; West Virginia; Ohio; Michigan; Illinois; Oklahoma; Kentucky and Indiana.
It also listed states where the introduction, much less adoption, of a sports betting bill is considered unlikely: Tennessee; Alabama; Arkansas; Texas; Kansas; Nebraska; North and South Dakota; Wyoming; Utah; Idaho; Alaska and Hawaii.
States across the nation are looking for new sources of revenue, and adding or expanding gambling is seen as an attractive option for many. While not vouching for the political likelihood of any particular state adopting gambling legislation, David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming research at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, said the predictions are "definitely in line with the historical trend of states turning more to gambling."
Sports betting is seen as most likely to be offered through commercial or tribal casinos, or state lotteries. Some analysts and industry observers also feel that a Supreme Court ruling legalizing sports betting nationwide would prompt a rapid expansion of internet betting, as states will move to allow it to be offered online.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.