A trip to Las Vegas for March Madness with some golf on the side has always been a go-to spring buddies trip. Or, combining fall golf with the rest of the day at the sportsbook on the Strip watching the NFL or college football is a tried-and-true weekend getaway.
But very soon, you may have even more options to consider if you want to mix sports betting with your vacation. Thanks to Monday's ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States, states are now free to create their own sports gaming laws. Several states may be live by the time we see the next kickoff.
While Nevada has been a clear leader when it comes to sports betting, it lost its virtual monopoly on casinos awhile ago. Native American reservations in particular have been cashing in on the casino business for decades. You can gamble close to many of the top golf courses in the country already. Northern Michigan is full of Native American-run casinos near Traverse City, Petoskey and the Upper Peninsula. San Diego and Palm Springs have plenty of them. Scottsdale's Talking Stick Resort has become the epicenter of the party scene and has the largest casino in the area which includes a giant poker room.
Even if you go remote, you usually find a place to play some cards. The logging town of Coos Bay just north of Bandon Dunes Resort will shuttle golfers back and forth to its Three Rivers Casino about 20-30 minutes away.
But for sports betting, you could really only (legally) do it right in Nevada or in the United Kingdom. I had my first U.K. bet shop experience in Southport last summer prior to The Open at Royal Birkdale, placing "each-way" bets the night before the action. (I bet on six golfers, none of whom fared well. But fortunately I asked my wife if she wanted to pick a player and she picked Jordan Spieth. Cha-Ching!)
Destinations poised to pounce on sports betting
Brighter days ahead for Atlantic City?
One annoying thing about betting on sports out west in a place like Las Vegas: football games begin as early as 8 or 9 a.m. With open sportsbooks on the east coast, you could tee off comfortably in the morning or early afternoon and still be able to catch the full game of monetary interest afterwards.
The glaringly obvious winner is Atlantic City, a destination that has been in peril. Several casinos have closed in recent years and the city was on the verge of bankruptcy. Saving A.C. was a big reason why the State of New Jersey spent $9 million in taxpayer money working to overturn the federal ban. Following Monday's ruling, we could see Garden State sportsbooks live within a matter of weeks, according to William Hill.
A.C. has been a top-flight golf destination on the eastern seaboard for many years, thanks to historic Atlantic City Country Club (which offers public access), and other standouts like Stockton's Seaview and Twisted Dune. Can legalized, full-service sportsbooks convince east coast bachelor parties and buddies trips to skip the cross-country flight to Vegas and instead head to Jersey?
One also has to assume big northeast casinos and golf resorts like Connecticut's Lake of Isles and New York's Turning Stone Resort are poised to quickly capitalize if their states relax their laws. Nearby Delaware and Pennsylvania also appear to be right on Jersey's tails with their own legislation.
The next big destination winner is Biloxi, Mississippi. The Washington Post names Mississippi one of the five states most likely to warm up to sports betting. The state passed a law last year in advance of the Supreme Court ruling and the gaming association predicts sports betting to be in place by the end of the summer. There are numerous gulf-front casinos like Beau Rivage that already look the part of a Vegas hotel and gaming floor (sans sportsbooks) operated by the big players like MGM and a handful of really strong golf courses, headlined by Fallen Oak, The Preserve and Grand Bear.
A bit more of a reach, one golf destination that seems ideal for sports betting would be Myrtle Beach. It's the quintessential east-coast buddies trip and there are huge sports bars up and down King's Highway. Yet the only place you can gamble at present is on a cruise that departs from Little River.
Conservative South Carolina may not be as far off from legalizing sports betting as you might assume. ESPN ranks S.C. in states ranked Nos. 10-22 in terms of likelihood of legalization, putting it in a bucket with other states who have "introduced kick-starter legislation (or publicly announced plans to do so), with hearings and votes on the bills moving forward at different speeds." And S.C. Democratic candidate for Governor Marguerite Willis says she "will work to increase opportunities for gaming and bring in more revenue to pay for education, infrastructure and healthcare."
What about Oregon? It's unquestionably one of the best golf states in the country. It is one of the four states that the feds grandfathered the right to sports gaming back in 1992 but hasn't had any sports betting since 2007. However, the state is working on a plan to have sports betting by 2020. I wouldn't count on a sportsbook installation in the Bandon Bunker bar, but maybe the resort town of Bend would permit one.
One interesting note is that states that legalize sports betting don't necessarily need brick-and-mortar sportsbooks to broker the bet. Nevada's Lake Tahoe, a place to visit for natural scenery and not to sit inside tracking lines, promotes the William Hill app that works on your mobile device as long as your physical location is within state boundaries. That technology seems poised work its way into buddies trips in any state that legalizes it. Thus, virtually any buddies trip - if it wasn't already - can be a golf and gaming trip.
But what if the point of a buddies trip is to escape?
There is a reason why gambling is deemed sinful by religions and illegal by governments in the first place: it's addictive and many humans simply can't control themselves. Have you been on a bachelor party where someone gets in a big betting hole almost immediately? They're in a bad mood, distracted, and may disappear from the group to double-down on riskier bets to get it back. Their credit card maxes out. They try and weasel out of their share of the hotel room. Their misfortunes and lack of control can wear on the morale of the whole group.
Then their spouse finds out about it, word gets around and now no one in the group gets the hall pass for next year's trip.
We often talk about planning group trips with the highest handicapper or tightest budget in mind. But we also have to think about keeping the member of the group with the least self-control in check, too. In many cases that means planning a trip where there are no casinos for miles around.
With that guy in mind, we can be fortunate the trend in golf destinations in recent years has been largely of the wholesome sort. It's virtually impossible to get into a bind at places like Bandon Dunes or Cabot Links or Pinehurst or Sand Valley or Big Cedar Lodge - that is, unless your vice is expensive spirits or cigars.
That said, it is worth mentioning that the casino business has had a profound impact on destination golf travel and it goes well beyond the blockbuster Shadow Creek course in Vegas. Imagine Phoenix/Scottsdale without We-Ko-Pa, Ak-Chin Southern Dunes, Whirlwind and Talking Stick. Or resorts like New York's Turning Stone or Indiana's French Lick Resort or Michigan's Grand Traverse Resort. Or one-off getaways like Salish Cliffs or Yocha Dehe.
It's even possible that a national sportsbook boom will light a spark for even more destination golf course development.
That's a bet I could get behind.