Over the past decade, teams from California, Florida or Texas have competed in more than half the championship series in the four major professional sports — including every NBA final.
That may be no surprise, considering the three states account for 27 percent of all franchises in those leagues. The sheer number of teams and their relative success make them fertile territory for legalizing sports gambling now that the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed every state to offer it.
“These states are the brass rings given the size of the populations and the potential opportunity,” said Sara Slane, a spokeswoman for the American Gaming Association.
So far, that ring remains elusive.
A 50-state review of sports gambling legislation by The Associated Press reveals that legalization efforts are nonexistent or very unlikely to happen anytime soon in the nation’s three most populous states, which together hold more than a quarter of the U.S. population.
The reasons vary. In California and Florida, powerful tribal interests that control most casino gambling are reluctant to reopen their agreements with the state and potentially share the gambling market with other players, including card rooms and race tracks.
In Texas, a combination of political clout from out-of-state casino interests and social conservatives who are morally opposed to gambling have effectively killed any prospects for legalized sports betting.
In all three states, any attempt to allow sports gambling would likely require a statewide vote to amend the constitution — a high hurdle for any issue, much less an expansion of gambling.
“The dynamic at work here is the larger the state, the larger the market, the larger the opportunity — the more complex the stakeholder environment and the more political stasis sets in,” said Chris Grove, managing director of gambling research firm Eilers and Krejcik.
Sports gambling is now legal in eight states, including Nevada, which had a monopoly before the high court ruling last spring.
Arkansas, New York and the District of Columbia also have legalized sports gambling in some form and are working on regulations before bets can be placed, while at least 22 other states are considering bills to legalize it. Advocates think the legislation has a realistic chance of passing in about half those states.
California, which alone accounts for one-eighth of the U.S. population and has 16 teams among the four major professional leagues, will not be joining the sports gambling states anytime soon.
Gambling there is largely controlled by casino-operating tribes that have compacts with the state. The tribes that are part of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association oppose an expansion of gambling even though it could bring more traffic to their casinos, said Steve Stallings, the group’s chairman.
The group is in the midst of a dispute with the state’s card rooms and doesn’t want to see more competition for the tribes by opening a debate over sports betting.