US Gambling Legislation Updates: Kentucky, Arizona, Alabama, Texas and New Mexico

  • Kentucky's Senate has passed a bill to legalize historical horse racing by a 22-15 vote
  • An Arizona sports betting bill advanced through a House committee on Tuesday
  • Sen. Del Marsh has filed legislation for a state lottery and legal casino gambling in Alabama
  • Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said the state’s Senate would not support sports betting legislation
  • A gambling expansion bill has stalled in New Mexico because of tribal compact issues
A judges gavel labeled with 'Gaming Law' next to scales
Efforts to introduce gambling legislation in Kentucky, Arizona, Alabama, Texas and New Mexico have seen a number of significant updates this week. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

A mixed week for legislation

Lawmaker efforts to pass gambling legislation have seen updates in five states this week. Some bills have gained momentum, while others have stalled completely. 

In Kentucky, legislators passed SB 120 to legalize historical horse racing machines in the state. The bill would overturn a Supreme Court ruling last year which deemed some of the slot-like games illegal under state law.

an Alabama senator filed legislation for a state lottery and legal casino gambling

Gambling legislation in Arizona and Alabama made progress on Tuesday. An Arizona House Committee advanced a sports betting bill for tribal casinos and professional sports teams. Meanwhile, an Alabama senator filed legislation for a state lottery and legal casino gambling.

This week did not bring such good news for gambling backers in Texas and New Mexico, however. Speaking with a radio host, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said sports betting is not going “to see the light of day” this legislative session. In New Mexico, a bill to expand casinos at racetracks stalled after lawmakers raised issues over tribal compacts. 

Kentucky sees a turnaround

Kentucky law permits pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing as one of the state’s only legal forms of gambling. In 2020, the state’s Supreme Court deemed at least some historical horse racing games illegal. The court argued that unlike pari-mutuel bets, the machines did not create a wagering pool.

As a result of the Senate’s 2020 ruling, the Kentucky-based Keeneland and Red Mile racecourses suspended all historical racing operations in January this year.

SB120, passed by the Senate on Tuesday, alters the state’s definition of pari-mutuel wagering to include horse racing machines. The bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. John Schickel (R – Union), said it will “support real jobs that support real families.”

The bill passed through the Senate by a 22-15 vote and will go to the House for consideration next. 

A step towards Arizona sports betting

Arizona made progress towards a legal sports betting market on Tuesday after a House committee advanced House Bill 2772. Ten Arizona State Representatives first proposed the legislation in February this year, spearheaded by Rep. Jeff Weninger (R – Chandler).

HB 2772 includes an online market with betting on both professional and collegiate sports

The bill would permit 20 sports betting licenses, ten of which would go to tribal casinos. The state’s professional sports teams and other sports organizations would receive the remaining licenses. HB 2772 includes an online market with betting on both professional and collegiate sports.

Arizona’s 20-year tribal compacts will expire in 2022. In his State of the State address, Gov. Doug Ducey said he intends to revise those compacts to include sports betting. He told lawmakers he will create a “limited and well regulated market.”

Alabama senator sets wheels in motion

In Alabama, Republican Senator Del Marsh filed a new bill on Tuesday. The legislation would introduce a state lottery and legal casino gambling at five Alabama venues, including four dog tracks and one casino. Marsh said he hoped for the bill’s consideration during a floor debate on Thursday.

Even if the bill is ultimately successful, an Alabama gambling extension must receive voter approval before any change can occur. Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, Marsh said: “I think the people of Alabama are ready to address this issue and want to. Polling data shows they want a vote on this.”

Earlier this month, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey told reporters she would not allow any gambling market expansion until the public had voted on a constitutional amendment. According to the Montgomery Advertiser, it is unlikely a vote will happen before November 2022. This would delay any gambling expansion until at least 2023.

An uphill battle in Texas

Despite hopes for a legal sports betting market in Texas, Lt Gov. Dan Patrick told a radio host on Tuesday that the Senate did not support gambling expansion. Speaking with Chad Hasty on KFYO in Lubbock, Patrick said:

we are nowhere close to having votes for it.”

Patrick said it would be a waste of time to consider sports betting legislation during the current session, despite his own support of gambling expansion. This derails the efforts of Texas professional sports franchises such as the Dallas Cowboys, Texas Rangers, and Dallas Mavericks, who have all backed legislation to permit a public vote on gambling expansion.

Despite the Senate’s apparent gambling opposition, Texas legislators introduced two bills for the legalization of online sports betting and commercial casino gambling earlier this year. There have been no updates on the progress of this legislation.

Tribal issues for New Mexico

In New Mexico, a bill for the introduction of full-service casino gambling at racetracks has stalled after reaching the House Education Committee on Monday. The legislation, proposed in January 2020, would allow the state’s racinos to offer live poker, blackjack, and craps, in addition to sports betting.

On Sunday, the state Attorney General’s office and the State Gaming Commission raised a number of issues in their review of the bill within a fiscal impact report. Officials argued that House Bill 101 conflicted with the state’s tribal compacts. As a result, Rep. Raymundo Lara (D – Chamberino) requested the bill be held in committee.

New Mexico’s tribes currently hold a monopoly over state sports betting. In the past, tribal representatives have made clear that gambling expansion would violate current revenue sharing compacts between the tribes and the state.