In 2015 seven states in the U.S. considered legalizing online gambling, none of the bills got off the floor. Currently online casino games and poker are only available inside the borders of three states and one territory; Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Although the legislation in Nevada originally said nothing to preclude casino gaming, only regulations for poker were eventually codified into law.
Last year saw California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington state introduce bills that would change laws surrounding online casinos and poker. Pennsylvania legislators introduced six separate House bills. They are also the state with the best chance to succeed next in the eyes of many close to the issue, as is California who saw three bills introduced in the Assembly and one in the Senate.
The reason so many state’s are moving toward legalizing online gambling is two-fold. Firstly the U.S. Department of Justice issued an opinion in late 2011 clarifying earlier court rulings that held the Wire Act of 1961 applied only to sports betting. That decision opened the doors for Nevada, New Jersey, and others to test the waters. With their varied successes others have followed. The second reason is simply revenues. States are looking for ways to bolster their budgets.
Due to ongoing wrangling at the federal level and big money behind the so-called Restore America’s Wire Act, any significant advancements for the balance of 2016 will likely be seen at the state level. However a volatile election year could replace enough incumbents in the Senate to change the course in D.C. Federal revenues are an important consideration and a fair but hefty tax regimen could generate significant funds. In 2009 a congressional report by Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) predicted revenues to the government to be about $42 billion over 10 years.
Were the market to return to normal, pre-2006 conditions, U.S. players would likely see the return of big gaming companies like Microgaming and Playtech who have flourished since then in European and other regulated markets. One of the major online casinos that started up after the disastrous Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 was Casino.com, who came online in 2008. The company already complies with Gibraltar and UK licensing regimes and subscribes to the UK’s Independent Betting Adjudication Service (IBAS) so U.S. regulation would not likely not be difficult to adjust to. The casino offers dedicated websites and software packages for at least nine countries already, including the UK and Canada, as well as several Eastern and Central European markets. In all 32 languages are supported. A package for America would an easy adjustment for the casino.
But the U.S. shouldn’t expect to capture revenues overnight and the longer lawmakers delay entering a market that is experiencing constant growth, the longer it will take to catch up and capture foreign players. Statistica.com tallied $35.52 billion in online gaming volume for 2013 and predicts over $56 billion by 2018 in non-US gaming alone. America should also learn from failed regulations in other countries where over-taxing has shrunk regional markets to near nothingness.
The chances that Washington D.C. will enact enabling legislation in 2016 are slim to none, but that’s no reason to think normalized online gaming won’t eventually return on a national level with some states choosing to opt out. If the U.S. government wants true control of casinos and the revenues that come with them, it will have to regulate the industry in the U.S. rather than carry on with a failed prohibition scheme.