The NCSL Blog


By Tres York

With the NFL season in full swing, it’s important to recognize the role states have played in deciding whether to legalize sports betting.

sports betting illustrationSince the Supreme Court paved the way for legalized sports betting, 13 states actively operate legal sports betting marketplaces, while several other states have legalized sports wagering and plan to get their systems up and running soon.

States are best positioned to determine what the rules and regulations of a legal sports betting marketplace should look like to fit their specific states.

States have proven over the past year that they, not Washington D.C., are the appropriate arenas for policy action. More than $9 billion has been legally wagered on sports since the court’s decision, with more than $65 million in tax revenue going to state and local governments. Dozens more states are likely to introduce their own sports betting bills. 

Regardless, no consensus exists on states taking the lead on sports betting regulation. At the end of 2018, the “Sports Wagering Market Integrity Act” was introduced by Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) with former Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) as its co-sponsor.

The bill would force states to gain approval from the U.S. Attorney General for their regulatory frameworks and would require operators to purchase “official league data” from the various professional sports leagues. In response, NCSL sent a letter to Congress encouraging continuing state leadership and flexibility. 

Schumer recently revived the debate about federal authority over sports betting by enlisting a new partner, Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah), in his pursuit of federal guidelines for legal sports betting and may introduce a bill this fall. It is unclear how closely a new bill would follow the 2018 legislation. 

Historically, all types of gaming have been regulated at the state level, a fact acknowledged in the 2018 Schumer-Hatch bill despite the bill’s attempt to preempt state authority.

States, not the federal government, should have the authority to decide if legal sports betting is the right decision for their state, and if they decide so, what the best system would be to make it successful.

Tres York is a policy specialist with NCSL's Communications, Financial Services and Interstate Commerce Committee.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.