2017’s Most Fun States in America
We all define “fun” a bit differently. And hopefully the place in which we live caters to our personal ideas of entertainment. But that’s not always the case. Otherwise, none of us would ever venture outside of our home state’s borders.
There are certain states, however, where fun is not just an option but also a way of life. These states offer enough variety of activities for everyone that you won’t have to use much of your imagination.
With pure enjoyment in mind, WalletHub’s number crunchers compared the 50 states across 22 key indicators of a jolly good time that won’t break the bank. They range from movie costs to accessibility of national parks to casinos per capita. Scroll down for the winners, money-saving advice from a panel of experts and a full description of our methodology.
For a more local breakdown of the fun scene, check out WalletHub’s Most Fun Cities in America ranking.
Most Fun States in America
‘Entertainment & Recreation’ Rank
Selling your state as a “fun place” can be tough without the right strategy. For advice and insight into the making of a fun state, we asked a panel of experts to share their thoughts on the following key questions:
- Are state-sponsored campaigns to promote tourism successful in wooing new visitors to the state?
- Should states provide tax incentives to attract professional sports teams and other entertainment draws?
- Based on the experiences of Colorado and Washington, what are the pros and cons of states legalizing marijuana?
Colorado and Washington legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, and implemented those programs in 2014; both also have medical marijuana programs. Because Colorado and Washington were the earliest states to adopt recreational marijuana programs, their experience serves as an important resource for understanding the multifaceted pros and cons of marijuana legalization. Following are some of the most significant.
Marijuana legalization benefits:
As of 2016, Colorado imposed a 37%, and Washington imposed a 29%, tax on recreational marijuana transactions. Those tax revenues exceed original estimates. For example, while Colorado originally estimated tax revenues of $70 million per year, actual 2016 collections are estimated to exceed $140 million. (Joseph Henchman and Morgan Scarboro, Tax Foundation Special Report, May 2016).
When government taxation rates are set too high, however, the illegal market will persist. Thus, both Colorado and Washington have scheduled tax reductions. Henchman and Scarboro evaluated the efficacy of different taxation schemes and found the most workable approach involved taxing final retail sales (which is Colorado’s approach), rather than taxing at the processor or producer level (which is Washington’s approach).
Moreover, marijuana legalization has sprouted a lucrative for-profit industry involved in the cultivation, sale and distribution of the product. According to ArcView Market Research, consumers spent $6.7 billion on legal cannabis products in 2016, and the industry will reach $22.6 billion by 2021. (State of Legal Marijuana Markets, 5th Edition).
- Illegal drug activity reduction
- Health benefits
Marijuana legalization cons:
- Marijuana impaired driving
- Youth activities
The availability of new marijuana-infused products like “edibles” are particularly problematic because young children may become attracted to and ingest the product, which typically looks like candy or pastries.
- Health consequences
Moreover, while there is evidence marijuana can have beneficial health aspects, evidence also exists that shows marijuana has negative health consequences, particularly for developing brains and for those with a predisposition to substance abuse and certain types of mental illness (including “cannabis-induced psychosis”). Chronic smokers of marijuana may experience respiratory and periodontal effects.
- Federal/State conflict
This makes engagement in the marijuana industry complex and risky. Congress and/or relevant federal enforcement agencies (the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Agency) could shift enforcement priorities and crack down on the industry. Most banks refrain from lending or accepting cash associated with marijuana operations out of fear of the banks would be sanctioned for money laundering. Thus, marijuana primarily involves privately financed all-cash enterprises; the presence of large sums of cash presents a security risk. Educational institutions routinely deny accommodations to students who use medical marijuana because the schools are required to assure drug free school zones and they don’t want to violate federal law or lose federal if they allow marijuana on campus. Until the tension between federal law and state law is reconciled, issues like these will continue to plague the industry.
Virtually every country in the world has signed and ratified the three international drug conventions, which deem marijuana (i.e, the plant) as a drug without medical or scientific use. The U.S. and several other countries are in violation of their treaty commitments, a bad precedent with regard to drugs and to all other treaties. “Recreational" marijuana is illegal by federal law -- the Controlled Substances Act.
The Obama Administration decided to ignore the Constitution's Supremacy Clause by not enforcing the law in U.S. states that "legalized" recreational use. I'm not a supporter of that policy, though I recognize the difficulty of reversing the clock on the issue.
Yes. The real question is, how much to pay. Incentives are worth something, but states or cities compete against each other and can drive the price to a point where it exceeds the actual value received.
Based on the experiences of Colorado and Washington, what are the pros and cons of states legalizing marijuana?
Other states, being followers, may be able to profit from the two states first into the market.
With regards to marijuana -- both states have experienced substantial increased tax revenue from legalizing recreational use. Some of that comes from pot tourism, although actual data about the percentage of the business is from out-of-state pot tourists. Additionally, the major concerns about legalizing marijuana have not proven true. Although there is some difference among stories about Washington and Colorado, use, including among teens, is not on the rise; nor are DUIs for pot use.
Crime rate do not seem to have been effected -- at least one study suggests a downturn in violent crime. Another study suggests a slight up-tick in property crime near pot shops. But these studies are relatively limited.
I can speak to Georgia's experience in luring the entertainment industry here.
Georgia offers a wide variety of tax incentives for entertainment industries ranging from film to music to gaming. In 2016, film and television productions generated an economic impact of over $7 Billion with approximately $2.2 billion in direct spending. The tax incentives make this investment possible and provide jobs and economic stimulus to the state.
Other states, North Carolina for example, have demonstrated that when you take away the tax incentives, productions look for more beneficial locations to film. This was true for Fox's "Sleepy Hollow" which moved filming to Georgia after the tax incentives were removed. Georgia is also investing in creating a workforce that is ready for the job opportunities the entertainment industries bring to the state. The Georgia Film Academy was created to help fast track students into this growing workforce.
I would say it depends. I am from South Carolina and the Palmetto State relies heavily on tourism and tourism dollars. The State spends money on promoting all of the regions in South Carolina, including the parks and recreation services and especially the beeches (the low country) and Mountain areas, as well as the many lakes and rivers in South Carolina.
Additionally, the state does promote the many conferences and convention locations across the state. To that end, I am proud of my home state in putting the confederate flag in a museum and thus paving the way for the Greenville area to host the SEC women’s basketball tournament and the first round of the NCAA men’s basketball regional tournament. I think those worked out well for the state in that the University of South Carolina Gamecock women’s basketball team won the national championship and the men made it to the final four.
I think it is remarkable when a State takes so many steps forward. For Instance, the recruitment of BMW and Boeing, as well as other companies like Bridgestone to South Carolina and the election of the state’s first females governor who happens to be of Indian descent. No question, promotion and progress have aided the economy in South Carolina. There are many other states dong the same, but few have been in the limelight like my home state.
Sports, promotion and success can go hand in hand. Clemson football wins the national championship this past season, Dustin Johnson (of SC) becomes the number one player in the world of golf and wins his first major championship. I think despite the small size of the Palmetto State, the promotion of many of her resources and success stories will continue and that revolving door of promotion and realized financial rewards will continue as well.
Should states provide tax incentives to attract professional sports teams and other entertainment draws?
It depends. Many economic studies have shown that building new stadiums (especially those mostly funded by the taxpayers) seldom leads to the returns promised by team owners and real estate developers. However, it remains to be seen if the move to Las Vegas by the NFL Franchise will work. We already know about the entertainment draw of Vegas with the many shows, legalized gambling, etc. It would make sense that pro football in the sand will also translate into greater returns.
What is interesting is the economic momentum that accompanies such a move as a new stadium or a state or city recruiting a pro franchise to an area. It will be interesting to watch if the Atlanta Braves move to suburban Cobb County makes magic happen for area hotels, restaurant and shop owners. If you look at the landscape of the new Braves facility and see the flurry of entertainment options for Braves fans outside and adjacent to the new ballpark, it makes you wonder. Would all of this activity in a North Atlanta suburban area boom like this without pro baseball coming away from near downtown? I am not sure, but new stadiums and a team coming to a new area almost always makes government officials and business people in that same area get excited.
However, when the newness has worn off, do the big dollars keep coming in? More needs to be done to see if the new Levi Stadium of the Forty-Niners has continued to produce fruit. The Texas Rangers decided to stay in Arlington, mostly because the owners, local citizens, others, decided that a new air conditioned and retractable roof stadium needed to be built. I now live in the DFW area and can understand on so many levels why that makes sense (have you been to a baseball game in Big D in August?). Not surprising was the announcement made that new hotels, restaurants and bars would be developed adjacent to the new ballpark. Will the new stadium bring in untold dollars to the City of Arlington and all of its citizens? A study will be coming in the next few years. Much like Vegas and the NFL, we shall see.
In order to determine the most fun states in America, WalletHub’s analysts compared the 50 states across two key categories, namely “Entertainment & Recreation” and “Nightlife.”
We evaluated those categories using 22 relevant metrics, which are listed below with their corresponding weights. Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with a score of 100 indicating the greatest number and variety of fun and cost-effective options.
We then calculated the total score for each state based on its weighted average across all metrics and used the resulting scores to construct our final ranking.
Data for metrics marked with an asterisk (*) were available at only the city level, and in such cases we calculated a weighted average based on the size of the city population.
Entertainment & Recreation - Total Points: 80
- Number of Attractions*: Quadruple Weight (~12.55 Points)
- Variety of Arts, Entertainment & Recreation Establishments: Quadruple Weight (~12.55 Points)
- Ideal Weather*: Quadruple Weight (~12.55 Points)
Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s Cities with the Best & Worst Weather ranking.
- Restaurants per Capita: Double Weight (~6.27 Points)
- Amusement Parks per Capita: Full Weight (~3.14 Points)
- Golf Courses & Country Clubs per Capita: Half Weight (~1.57 Points)
- Movie Theaters per Capita: Half Weight (~1.57 Points)
- Arcades per Capita: Half Weight (~1.57 Points)
- Fitness Centers per Capita: Full Weight (~3.14 Points)
- Skiing Facilities per Capita: Half Weight (~1.57 Points)
- Marinas per Capita: Half Weight (~1.57 Points)
- Beach Quality: Full Weight (~3.14 Points)
- Access to National Parks: Full Weight (~3.14 Points)
- Personal Spending on Recreation Services per Capita: Double Weight (~6.27 Points)
- State & Local Direct General Expenditures on Parks & Recreation per Capita: Triple Weight (~9.41 Points)
Nightlife - Total Points: 20
- Average Beer & Wine Price*: Full Weight (~2.50 Points)
- Movie Costs*: Full Weight (~2.50 Points)
- Nightlife Options per Capita*: Double Weight (~5.00 Points)
- “Access to Bars” Grade: Full Weight (~2.50 Points)
Note: This grade is a combination of bars per capita and bars per square mile, a measure of both availability (per capita) and proximity (per square mile).
- Music Festivals per Capita: Full Weight (~2.50 Points)
- Performing-Arts Theaters per Capita: Full Weight (~2.50 Points)
- Casinos per Capita: Full Weight (~2.50 Points)
Sources: Data used to create this ranking were collected from U.S. Census Bureau, Bureau of Economic Analysis, National Park Service, Council for Community and Economic Research, TripAdvisor, Beachapedia, Stadium and Arena Visits, Graphiq, American Gaming Association and WalletHub research.
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