ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — The race to legalize sports betting is on now that the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed it in all 50 states, but will it provide enough extra tax revenue to make much of a difference for schools, roads or pension debt?
Don’t bet on it.
Just look to the states that capitalized immediately after the court’s ruling last spring and to Nevada, which previously had an effective monopoly on sports gambling. Even though the market is still developing, the returns to date have been modest.
In Nevada, revenue from sports betting has accounted for roughly one half of 1 percent of the entire state budget.
“Everything I’ve seen so far suggests that this would not be what one would consider to be a pot of gold,” said Ohio state Sen. John Eklund, a Republican who introduced legislation to legalize sports betting in his state.
Delaware, Mississippi, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and West Virginia legalized sports betting last year after the Supreme Court decision, as did the District of Columbia. Although New Mexico has not passed a sports betting law, the Santa Ana Star Casino & Hotel started taking bets in October through a tribal gambling compact.
Lawmakers in Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia already have filed bills to allow sports betting, and those who track the industry expect a total of 30 states to consider similar ones this year.
The expected stampede of states seeking to legalize it has parallels to the growing trend toward legalizing recreational marijuana, which 10 states have done and others are considering.
As with marijuana, lawmakers say they are motivated in large part because sports betting has been a black market activity outside Nevada. Legalizing it would allow states to impose regulations and take in at least some money.
“I keep telling them this is not like a craps table or a slot machine,” said Mark Sickles, a Democratic state lawmaker in Virginia who has sponsored a bill that would place a 15 percent tax on sports betting in the state. “My main purpose is to take something that’s currently being done illegally and get some tax revenue from it.”
Revenue from legalized pot makes up just a small portion of state revenue, even in the states with the most mature markets — about 2 percent in Colorado and a little over 1 percent in Washington, according to a May report from Moody’s Investors Service. That’s still a far larger portion of revenue than even the most optimistic projections for sports betting.