As 2019 comes to an end, we’ve taken the opportunity to round up happenings in gaming throughout the Southeast.
In 2019, in partial response to the expansion of gaming in Tennessee and Mississippi, a lottery bill sponsored by state Sen. Greg Albritton made it through the Alabama Senate but was voted down by the House of Representatives. One of the central tensions identified in authorizing new gaming in the state is between the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and any perceived competition introduced into the state. There is a possibility that new legislation will be introduced in 2020 in an attempt to address a lottery separately from the issue of expanded gaming.
Arkansas became the ninth state with sports betting on July 1, 2019, pursuant to Amendment 100 of the Arkansas Constitution. The amendment authorized the expansion of Oaklawn and Southland into full fledged casinos and the licensing of a new casino apiece in Jefferson and Pope counties with the approval of local elected officials, as well as sports wagering at the casinos. Ground has been broken at the Pine Bluff site, but the Pope County casino project remains mired in the bid process. Southland Casino has also announced it will end greyhound racing by December 31, 2022.
A federal judge found the designated player games violated a compact between the tribe and the state in which the Seminoles agreed to pay about $350 million a year in exchange for the “exclusive” rights to operate banked card games, such as blackjack, at most of its Florida casinos. Not long after the session ended in May, the Seminoles told the governor in writing they would stop making the annual payments to the state “until the illegal banked card game issue is resolved,” referring to the designated player games. The Seminole Tribe and the state of Florida are currently in disagreement over the interpretation and enforcement of certain components of the state’s compact with the tribe, leading the tribe to withhold payment of $350 million due the state under the compact. Certain members of the state House and Senate have indicated the longer this loss of revenue extends, the more likely they are to rethink gaming broadly throughout the state.
State Sen. Brandon Beach, among others, has filed bills that would legalize various kinds of gaming in the past few years, but did so under a Republican governor who fought casino gambling. New Gov. Brian Kemp, also a Republican, has said that while he personally is against casino gambling, he wouldn’t stand in the way of a casino vote if the money goes to education. There is currently some disagreement about whether Georgia voters would have to approve any casino or wagering proposal or if such a proposal could be approved by a two-thirds majority vote in the state Legislature. It appears likely that another bill authorizing casino gaming will be proposed in the upcoming year.
A bill sponsored by state Sen. Danny Martiny passed the Louisiana Senate and seemed likely to pass the Louisiana House of Representatives early in 2019, which would have required a local referendum on sports betting on a parish-by-parish basis. The proposed model for Louisiana sports betting would have authorized sportsbooks for the state’s casinos and racetracks starting in 2020. However, in late May, the House Appropriations Committee amended the bill to include video poker parlors, and a mandate to use official league data put the bill in an unpassable posture and it never progressed from committee. Legislative prospects for 2020 are unclear, as Martiny will be barred from office by term limits and the outlook of a new governor is a big unknown.
We took a deeper dive into Mississippi’s milestones. Click here to view Mississippi’s 2019 highlights.
In May 2019, Tennessee passed a sports betting bill, HB1, which authorized online/mobile sports betting with no brick-and-mortar component, making Tennessee the first state in the country with an online only sports betting law. The Tennessee Education Lottery serves as the sports betting regulator and has appointed a commission governing sports betting, but it has not yet issued any licenses for operators. Tennessee imposed a 20% tax rate on adjusted sports betting gross revenue and was the first in the nation to mandate the use of official league data, if available, at commercially reasonable rates. At this time, there is no plan to expand casino gaming or authorize any brick-and-mortar gaming.