How The Wager Industry Is Taking Over The States, Is Colorado Coming Next?

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In the five years since the US Supreme Court decided to leave the issue of whether or not to legalize sports betting up to the states, overturning a federal ban that had stood for nearly 30 years, the industry has progressed rapidly as states and their voters rush to pass legislation allowing the pastime.

 As of July 2023, roughly 75 percent of states in the US have passed laws condoning sports betting, whether that means they have sportsbooks already up and operating, or if they’re still waiting for the proper framework to be put in place before they can open their doors. Roughly half of the states (as well as the District of Columbia) have gone a step further, allowing sportsbooks to field bets using mobile applications, which means that users can place bets using their phones from anywhere inside state lines… including the comfort of their own home. 

The wave of legalizations is beginning to slow as most of the holdouts are pretty firmly entrenched against the idea of legalizing sports betting, but that could change soon as voters remain overwhelmingly favorable: take a look at Texas, where voters elect to send a bill to the state legislature each year, but their representatives decide to shoot the measures down. While that endless cycle has played out for the past few years, it could change soon if lawmakers decide it’s in their best interest to change their tune (or risk upsetting their constituents and being voted out of office). 

One of the most recent states to see their sportsbooks go live was the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. You can bet in Massachusetts through retail casinos, where in-person betting began in January ahead of the rush of Super Bowl bets: you can also place wagers using apps, as mobile betting went live in early March ahead of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament

The Bay State drew quite a bit of buzz because despite being one of the smallest states in area (No. 43) it possesses an incredibly dense population (No. 16). Those factors, combined with an extremely robust economy (Massachusetts clocked a GDP per capita of $77,896.55 in 2022, trailing only Washington, DC and New York) and some of the most passionate sports fans (not to mention successful franchises, with 12 combined championships across the New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics since the turn of the century) means it isn’t difficult to see just how quickly the industry could grow in the Bay State.

On the other end of the spectrum you have states like Colorado, where the measures legalizing sports betting passed without much fanfare. The Colorado state legislature voted to condone mobile and in-person wagering during the tail end of 2019 and the spring 2020 working season, as the nation reeled from the COVID-19 pandemic and the various sports leagues sat through indefinite pauses while they waited for case numbers to subside and adequate treatments to become available while figuring out just how to resume play. Given the economic uncertainty sweeping a country reeling from the effects of labor shortages, it’s no surprise that Colorado received a fraction of the attention that Massachusetts did, despite a similar niche on the national stage.

The next impending wave of legalizations, similarly, haven’t received much press. Kentucky and Maine have both passed the relevant laws needed for sportsbooks to begin operating, but it’ll take some time for the state governments to figure out just how to regulate the industry. Similarly, most states like to time the official launch date to occur ahead of major sports events (as happened in Massachusetts with the Super Bowl and March Madness) to ensure that they’re maximizing the amount of bets placed during the initial rush as people leap to try an exciting new trend.

Nebraska and Vermont have pending launches too, although they sit on opposite sides of the spectrum: Vermont only wants to legalize mobile betting, opting for the convenience of betting on the go as opposed to taking up valuable real estate with casinos. Nebraska, on the other hand, has only legalized in-person betting, seeing discretion as the better part of virtue as they want to make it harder to place bets in the hope that they’ll limit problem gambling. 

North Carolina has had in-person sportsbooks operating for a couple years, but only just got the go ahead to start paving the way for a mobile launch late this year or early in 2024, while Florida legalized both in 2021 but has to wait for the results of a federal lawsuit before their books can begin operation.