2021 Regional Gaming Highlights
In 2020, Governor Kay Ivey appointed a Gaming Task Force to study the feasibility of legalizing gaming in Alabama. Since voters rejected the last attempt in 1999 to amend the Alabama constitutional prohibition on gambling, numerous attempts to pass gaming legislation have failed. But with the proliferation of gaming in surrounding states, bingo casinos scattered throughout Alabama, and the state government’s need for additional revenue, opinions may have shifted. The Gaming Task Force report indicated that a combination of a lottery and five or six casinos spread throughout the state could generate between $500 million and $700 million annually in tax revenue, and sports betting could contribute $10 million annually. Senator Del Marsh, who had been president pro tem of the Alabama Senate for many years, resigned his position in part so he could singularly focus on sponsoring and guiding a proposed constitutional amendment and enabling legislation through the 2021 legislative process. Hopes were dashed as the legislation once again failed to achieve consensus among Republicans, some of whom support only a lottery, and Democrats, many of whom insisted on having a casino guaranteed for pari-mutuel facilities located in their districts. The prospects are poor for additional gaming legislation in 2022, an election year in which typically controversial topics such as gaming are avoided. Nonetheless, Senator Greg Albritton of Atmore, where the Poarch Creek Indians headquarters is located, has announced his intention to once again introduce gaming legislation. His package, reports indicate, will resemble the 2021 effort and will include a lottery compact with the Poarch and authorization for additional casinos throughout the state.
After the expansion of casino gaming and sports betting in 2019, Arkansas opened its third casino (out of a possible four). The fourth casino license authorized by statute, in Pope County, was awarded to Gulfside Casino Partnership. However, the second bidder on the license, the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, pursued litigation regarding the license, even as construction was ongoing. The Cherokee Nation prevailed in the Arkansas Supreme Court, resulting in the Arkansas Racing Commission voiding the license issued to Gulfside and awarding it to a business unit of the Cherokee Nation. But other peripheral litigation continues. In November, the commission formally approved the publication of rules that would permit mobile sports betting in the state in early 2022.
Governor Ron DeSantis signed a new gaming compact with Florida’s Seminole tribe permitting the tribe to engage in sports betting on an exclusive basis throughout the state. In August, the US Department of the Interior allowed the compact to become effective, neither explicitly approving nor disapproving it. In November, the tribe launched its mobile sports betting application. On December 4, sports betting in Florida ground to a halt after a federal judge threw out the new compact, ruling it violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, and a federal appeals court denied the tribe’s request for a temporary stay pending appeal. Meanwhile, major US-based sports betting companies filed a ballot initiative to put approval of commercial online sports betting in Florida to a vote during the November 2022 election.
Gaming made little headway in Georgia. Sports betting bills were put forth in both the Georgia House of Representatives and Senate; both bills were generally modeled after legislation in Tennessee and would direct revenues from sports wagering toward funding HOPE scholarship and pre-K programs. However, SB 142 was not passed by the lower house of the General Assembly before the conclusion of the 2021 legislative session in April. Ahead of the 2022 legislative session, Representatives Ron Stephens and Alan Powell have vocalized support for combining sports betting, casinos, and horse racing into a single constitutional amendment to put before Georgia voters.
Sports wagering is now live in certain Louisiana parishes. In November 2020, voters in 55 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes voted to authorize sports wagering in their respective parishes, and formal legislation was signed into law by Governor John Bel Edwards in June 2021. A few months later, in August, the Louisiana Gaming Control Board approved emergency rules to govern the conduct of sports wagering. Under the legislation and emergency rules, a total of 20 licenses are available to operate sportsbooks in Louisiana, with the licenses first being made available to the land-based casino in New Orleans and the 15 riverboat casinos and four horse racetracks in the state. Only some of the properties have been issued temporary Certificates of Authority (TCOAs).
Those properties that have been granted TCOAs can offer only retail sports wagering at this time. Mobile sports wagering will be offered in due course, subject to regulatory approval of geolocation and other technical issues. It should be noted that a sports wagering license will not be issued to a property unless and until a suitability investigation of the property and its owners of 5% or more, officers, and directors has been completed and its internal controls for sports wagering have been approved.
In late 2020, the Tennessee Education Lottery issued its first mobile sports betting app, and wagering commenced on November 1, 2020. Tennessee imposed a 20% tax rate on adjusted sports betting gross revenue and was the first state in the nation to mandate the use of official league data, if available, at commercially reasonable rates. The regulations also impose a controversial 10% hold requirement on sports wagering operators. In 2021, the Tennessee Legislature transferred all regulatory authority to the Tennessee Sports Wagering Advisory Council (SWAC), effective January 1, 2022. New emergency regulations were adopted in December 2021; they included a continuation of the 10% hold requirement. The SWAC was also busy with organizing a new state agency, hiring senior staff, locating office space, and developing a budget to submit to the Legislature.