Mobile sports betting apps are already legal and operating in several states. Additional state lawmakers are now considering legislating for online casino and mobile sports betting in their own states. Presently, sports betting is legal, in one form or another, in Arkansas, Delaware, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and West Virginia.
New Jersey, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and West Virginia allow mobile or online sports betting in one way or another. Rhode Island, for instance, allows mobile betting only if the individual placing the bet is physically located in the casino that is facilitating the wager. In Pennsylvania, anyone located within the state borders can bet online or through mobile devices via mobile apps that are specifically branded for the land-based casinos they represent.
In addition to these states, many of the states expected to introduce sports betting in 2019, including Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Montana, and Oregon, are considering adding mobile betting into their legislative package.
Pros and Cons
As state legislatures across the U.S. decide whether to authorize sports gambling, they must relate to concerns about the dangers of such overly-accessible gambling opportunities. Many interest groups are working to make sure that mobile betting remains unavailable to state residents. The main concerns center on how susceptible individuals will cope with easily-accessible online gambling since those with a penchant for problem gambling behaviors will, with legalized online gambling, find it easier to feed their addiction. Additionally, online gambling will make it easier for minors to gamble.
In Rhode Island, legislators sent a bill to the governor that will expand the state's sports betting law even further. Rep. Teresa Tanzi voted against the bill because, she said, she is worried about giving people unlimited access to an activity that can be highly addictive. She explained her nay vote, saying "We know cellphones are addictive and gambling is addictive. It's two corrosive elements together, and we don't know what those two things together will exponentially produce. I just don't see that there's adequate caution moving forward."
Tanzi is trying to launch a public awareness campaign that will educate people about the signs of gambling addiction. She would also like to see revenues from sports betting directed at helping problem gamblers. Tanzi feels that any mobile sports betting app must include information about how people can get help for their addictive gambling behaviors.
On the other side of the issue is Rep. Anastasia Williams who supports the addition of mobile sports bets. Williams says that online betting is the wave of the future and Rhode Island needs to embrace technology. Failure to meet bettors’ wishes in-state, Williams says, will result in gambling revenue going to other states. "Change is here to stay," Williams said.
Last May the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could legislate sports betting. Prior to that ruling, sports betting was only legal in Nevada where it had been in effect before the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act took effect. SCOTUS’s May 2018 ruling invalidated PASPA and gave the authority to the states to legalize sports betting in their own jurisdiction.
At least 14 states are now considering whether to legalize online and mobile wagering. Indiana is one of those states and State Senator Jon Ford is a strong proponent of allowing mobile betting in the state. "Everybody's using mobile to do all kinds of things we weren't 10 years ago," said Ford. "It's the future. It's inevitable."
Ford was a co-author of a bill to legalize sports betting in Indiana which would include online wagering. His bill has passed the State Senate and is now before the House committee where Rep. Ben Smaltz, the committee chairman, is cool to the idea of allowing sports bets to be placed online.
Smaltz views mobile betting as a significant expansion of gambling in the state. He is concerned that mobile betting could lead to more problem gambling. "If you're allowing sports gaming on a mobile device, what kind of expansion does that lead us to?" Smaltz said. "I'm comfortable with it in on the properties now, and I'm going to hear the bill. But it would be difficult to imagine a scenario where I, or certainly a large number of people in Indiana, would think it's a good idea to put mobile out there right now."
In Arizona, state Sen. Sonny Borrelli, who is pushing to legalize sports betting, has written his bill in a way that will confine it to tribal casinos and the social clubs and bars that partner with them. His bill doesn’t include mobile gaming because, he said, there is no way to ensure that the technology exists to guarantee that gamblers playing online are over 21.
In some states, the debate has included questions about whether lawmakers even have the authority to allow online and mobile betting.
The questions revolve around the issue of whether mobile betting represents a major expansion of gambling and whether approval of that type of expansion would require amending a state constitution. That disagreement is preventing the governor of New York from supporting sports betting and online gambling legislation and has led the Rhode Island Republican Party to threaten a lawsuit over the online gaming bill that was passed in the state. Critics of such bills say that expanding sports betting to mobile devices must go to state voters in a referendum.
Rep. Blake Filippi, minority leader of the Rhode Island House, commented "I support this type of gaming. I don't support moving ahead when there are substantial questions about its legality. I think we should be asking for an advisory opinion from the Rhode Island Supreme Court before we build our budget around it and invest in the technology."
In New York, legislators are sensitive to the fact that many New York residents are crossing the border to place sports bets in New Jersey. They are considering how to best bring sports betting to the state. A proposed bill would authorize in-person sports bets at Madison Square Garden, Yankee Stadium and other venues. While governor Andrew Cuomo maintains that a constitutional amendment would have to be approved by voters to bring sports betting to the state, other lawmakers disagree.
The state Senate's Democratic majority has proposed an expansion of legalized sports betting, including online betting, as part of next year's budget. The big push in New York involves covering the state’s huge deficit which now stands at $3 billion. Proponents of the bill argue that such bets are taking place at any rate, albeit via illegal sources. If the state legislates the bill, the black market will be eliminated and the state can benefit from the increased revenues.
Relating to anti-online gambling concerns, James Chisholm, a spokesman for the DraftKings online fantasy sports and sports betting company, said that his company's app offers protections that include limits on how much time people can spend on the app, caps on how much money gamblers can deposit and age verification. He said, “I promise you that the offshore sportsbook in Costa Rica is not going through an age-verification process.”