US Sports Betting Legislation Updates: Kentucky, Connecticut, Massachusetts

  • Three US governors provided legalization status updates this week in State of the State speeches
  • Gov. Andy Beshear included sports betting in his "blueprint" for a post-COVID-19 Kentucky
  • Connecticut could see a legal market this year after Gov. Ned Lamont labeled it a priority
  • Lawmakers dropped legal sports wagering plans from MA's 2021 budget but may revive them later
man in suit holding US dollar bills while standing in a soccer stadium
The Governors of Kentucky and Connecticut have embraced sports betting, while Massachusetts legislators have excluded it from the state’s 2021 budget bill. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

2021 state budgets announced

In setting out their budgets for 2021 this week, three US governors provided an update on the progress of sports betting legalization in their respective state.

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear gave his virtual budget address on Thursday. Sports betting legalization was one aspect in a plan the governor labeled his “blueprint” for a post-COVID-19 Kentucky. Meanwhile, in Connecticut, Governor Ned Lamont said he would work with tribal partners towards a legal sports betting and online gaming market.

In contrast, Massachusetts sports betting is off the table for now, following its exclusion from the state’s 2021 economic development bill. Government officials met Wednesday to finalize the $627m budget.

Beshear’s “blueprint” for Kentucky

In his 2021 budget, Gov. Beshear proposed three pillars through which Kentucky could counter the financial impact of COVID-19. These included coronavirus relief and investment plans.

time to legalize medical marijuana, pass sports betting and save historic horse racing”

Explaining plans for investment in the state’s future, the governor outlined current legislation he deemed counter-intuitive to Kentucky’s recovery. “Speaking of laws that unduly restrict us from growth and innovation, it is time to legalize medical marijuana, pass sports betting and save historic horse racing,” Beshear said.

Last year, Rep. Adam Koenig introduced a Kentucky sports betting bill. With the support of Gov. Beshear and the House, it looked certain the bill would pass. Republican representatives ultimately blocked the legislation after the Family Foundation of Kentucky lobbied against it.

Koenig has established his intention to spearhead another campaign in 2021 with the support of Gov. Beshear. However, the Kentucky legislature only meets for 30 days in odd-numbered years, which could make things more difficult.

Lamont sets his priorities

Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut reflected on the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic during his own virtual State of the State Address on Wednesday. He said that, as a result, in 2021 he would prioritize the legalization of sports betting, in addition to marijuana, to help boost state revenue.

Connecticut would become the third New England state to legalize sports betting

“Sports betting, internet gaming and legalized marijuana are happening all around us,” Lamont said. “Let’s not surrender these opportunities to out-of-state markets or even worse, underground markets.” If Lamont gets his way, Connecticut would become the third New England state to legalize sports betting, following Rhode Island and New Hampshire.

The governor expressed his intention to work with Connecticut’s tribes towards legal sports betting. These include the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Tribal Nations, both of which maintain they hold exclusive rights to gaming in the state.

Connecticut’s neighboring state New York already boasts an active retail sports betting market. Earlier this week, Governor Andrew Cuomo established his intention to include a mobile sports betting bill in his 2021 policy proposals. The governor reportedly aims to counter damage caused by COVID-19 through mobile gaming tax revenue.

A Connecticut sports betting bill must pass through the House and Senate before Lamont can sign it into law. The Connecticut General Assembly convened for its 2021 legislative session this week, and will discuss the topic of sports betting before its adjournment in June.

Massachusetts drops sports betting for now

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker included plans for a sports wagering market in his initial 2021 budget proposal. However, the state’s lawmakers left this out from the final 101-page bill, which focused on providing COVID-19 relief.

If I could, we’d have a [sports betting] deal. We’re going to have to come back to it”

Commenting on the exclusion of sports betting, Massachusetts House Speaker Ron Mariano told Bloomberg Baystate Business radio: “If I could, we’d have a [sports betting] deal. We’re going to have to come back to it.”

Legislators introduced House Bill 4559 in 2020, which would have made retail and mobile sportsbooks legal in Massachusetts. Lawmakers later dropped the bill after the focus shifted towards the coronavirus pandemic. The subject’s exclusion from the budget means lawmakers will not revive the bill just yet. Mariano said the state’s legislators will consider sports betting again in the spring session.

A number of other US states could also begin their journey towards a legal sports betting market this year. In November 2020, residents in Louisiana, South Dakota, and Maryland all voted in favor of legalizing sports betting. Each of the state legislatures will decide on their respective sports betting frameworks when they meet this year.