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States’ push to legalize sports betting differs by region

CHERRY HILL, N.J. — In the year since the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for every state to legalize sports betting , a regional divide has opened as states decide whether to expand their gambling options.

By year’s end, legalization is possible in a dozen states in the Northeast and Midwest. But most states in the Deep South and far West — SEC and Pac-12 territory in college sports — are staying on the sidelines, at least for now.

State lawmakers are weighing the benefits of a slight boost in state revenue and the ability to add consumer protections against concerns about the morality of allowing another form of gambling. Sorting out complex business interests and opposition from some casino-operating tribes also has emerged as thorny challenges.

It’s not clear whether legalization will happen in all corners of the country over the next few years or if opposition will keep it concentrated in the regions where it’s already taken root.

With just two exceptions, the Deep South states have been among the most resistant to legalizing sports betting. In Louisiana, a legalization bill passed the Senate earlier this year but died in the House.

Republican state Sen. Danny Martiny favors legalization, saying Louisianans already are betting on sports through bookies, offshore websites and casinos in neighboring Mississippi. He said Louisiana should regulate and tax sport bets, with the receipts largely earmarked for early childhood education.

“We have all of the ills of gaming,” Martiny said during a committee hearing, “but none of the benefits.”

Opponents such as Rep. Valarie Hodges, also a Republican, said gambling preys on the poor and that the state should find a better way to pay for early education.

“What we legalize, we legitimize,” she said.

Hodges’ side prevailed in the legislative debate, aided by a dispute among gambling interests over whether sports betting should be limited to the state’s 16 casinos and four racetracks or also available at 2,800 truck stops and other locations with video poker terminals.