Alaska is the largest state in the country by size. It is about two-and-a-half times the size of Texas and four times larger than California. It’s also one of the least populated states in the US at around 750,000. Only Vermont and Wyoming have fewer residents.
Meanwhile, Alaska has no legal sports betting at present. While we’re making comparisons, we can safely put Alaska near the bottom of the list of states likely to legalize sports betting any time soon. However, that doesn’t mean sports betting will never come to Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau.
In early 2020, Gov. Mike Dunleavy voiced his support for Alaska to introduce a state lottery. Currently, Alaska is one of only five states without one. The new lottery corporation would serve several purposes, including overseeing sports betting in the state. In response, members of both the state House and Senate proposed bills reflecting the governor’s wishes.
Alas for Alaska, neither bill gained much traction. But it is likely legislators will revisit the issue.
Read on for an overview of the prospects for sports betting in Alaska, including some context regarding the state’s history when it comes to gambling law.
Alaska isn’t quite as unfavorable to gambling as either Hawaii or Utah, both of which have zero legal gambling. But since Alaska became a state in 1959, its lawmakers have never been all that enthusiastic about finding ways to add legal gambling to the state’s many attractions.
As noted, Alaska is one of the few states with no state lottery. Betting on horse racing is illegal in Alaska, including off-track betting. The same is true of dog racing, mostly, although there are some special exceptions. For example, in 2020 certain types of wagering and fantasy contests were allowed for the annual long-distance Iditarod race. That added a bit of extra excitement for those watching the teams of sled dogs race from Anchorage to Nome.
Alaska also allows various kinds of charitable gambling, including bingo, raffles and pull-tab games. In fact, among the unique varieties of charitable gambling allowed are a number of Alaska-specific sporting events.
These include (to quote from the current law) “ice classics, race classics, rain classics, goose classics, mercury classics, deep freeze classics, canned salmon classics, salmon classics, king salmon classics, dog mushers’ contests, snow machine classics, fish derbies, animal classics, crane classics, cabbage classics, Calcutta pools and contests of skill.”
Alaska has not explicitly legalized daily fantasy sports, although it hasn’t declared DFS illegal, either. Thus fantasy sites like DraftKings and FanDuel serve customers playing from Alaska.
There are no tribal casinos as such in Alaska, though there are a couple of Class II gambling facilities where visitors can play bingo and pull-tab games. These are located in Klawock and Metlakatla, both in the Alaskan Panhandle south of Juneau and just over the border from British Columbia.
As long as Class III casino-style games are illegal in Alaska, it is unlikely there will be any full-fledged tribal casinos in the state. That’s because according to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the tribe would have to enter into a compact with the state before it could operate a casino. As long as casino gambling remains illegal in Alaska, the state would not enter such a compact.
In February 2020, Dunleavy introduced legislation to create the Alaska Lottery Corp. The new group would be charged with organizing, operating, and regulating a state lottery. The Alaska Lottery Corp. would become part of the state’s Department of Revenue. The idea would be for the lottery to generate revenue to support K-12 education and a host of other programs in the state.
Matching bills were introduced outlining details of the governor’s plan, SB 188 in the Senate and HB 246 in the House. “Types of games” the corporation could conduct included “any type or kind of lottery game, including single-jurisdiction and multi-jurisdiction draw games, instant tickets, sports betting and keno.”
The legislation did not clarify what kinds of sports betting would be legal. However the bill did state that the corporation could conduct its games “through the use of any media, including electronic terminals, computers, and the Internet.”
In other words, if approved without revision, the bill would allow online sales of lottery tickets. It would also presumably allow an online option for whatever types of sports betting the corporation chose to offer.
In March 2020, the Senate State Affairs Standing Committee met to discuss the new lottery bill. At the meeting, a representative of DraftKings appeared to speak in support of mobile sports wagering.
However there was no further action in either chamber, and the topic was set aside for 2020.
With no legislation having passed as yet, it will necessarily take a while for Alaska to introduce sports betting. Even when a law is passed, the need to establish regulations, issue licenses and handle other administrative matters would push a launch date for sports betting further into the future.
That likely means sports betting could not launch in Alaska until 2022 or 2023 at the earliest.
There are no casinos in Alaska, and thus any retail sportsbooks would have to be located elsewhere. If the state creates a lottery corporation to oversee sports betting, one of the corporation’s tasks would be to decide where exactly people could place wagers.
If sports betting became legal in Alaska, mobile wagering seems a likely option. Proposed legislation includes the possibility of allowing online sports betting.
Indeed, allowing the online option would seem almost necessary. Given how large Alaska is, with its low population widely dispersed around the state, limiting sports betting to a few brick-and-mortar sites would severely impact the possible revenue sports betting could create.
There is no legal sports betting in Alaska.
Alaskans might see offshore sportsbooks advertising themselves as “legal” in the state, but that is not technically the case. In any event, depositing funds and placing wagers on such rogue sites is risky. These sites operate without having to adhere to the laws of Alaska or the United States. If the sites failed to pay out winners or if other issues arose regarding site integrity or security, Alaskans would have no legal recourse.
Almost all of the daily fantasy sports sites operate in Alaska, so that does provide one legal wagering outlet for sports fans in the state.
Alaska also allows some forms of charitable gambling that involve betting on unique sports like fish derbies and dog mushing. A list of such events appears above in the discussion of Alaska gambling law.
There are no major league professional sports franchises in Alaska. Anchorage has endeavored to host the Winter Olympics, though has yet to have a bid accepted.
Hockey is quite popular in Alaska, with many fans of National Hockey League teams in the state. Sportsbooks in Alaska would no doubt receive a lot of interest from bettors wagering on hockey. Major North American sports like football, basketball and baseball would attract notice, as well.
One could imagine other events such as the Iditarod sled dog race might also be a popular option for wagering in Alaska, if the rules allowed it.
The state does have a couple of schools in the University of Alaska system competing at the Division II level in hockey and basketball. But there are no Division I programs in the state.
From the late 1970s until 2017, the University of Alaska Anchorage hosted the annual Great Alaska Shootout where NCAA men’s basketball teams from around the country would compete.
As noted above, betting on horse racing is illegal in Alaska. Given the often cold climate, it isn’t surprising to find there are no horse racetracks operating in the state. Betting on horse racing online is not legal, either. That means advance wagering deposit sites like BetAmerica, TVG and TwinSpires do not serve Alaska bettors.
There is no legal sports betting in Alaska at present. The age of majority in the state is 18 years old. Legislation to legalize sports betting mentions 18 as a minimum age for sports betting.
The most recent legislation regarding sports betting described creating a regulatory body, the Alaska Lottery Corp. That group or something similar would likely oversee the lottery as well as sports betting, should it be legalized.