Since then, iGaming expansion in the United States has ground to a halt. Not a single state has passed a bill legalizing online casino games or online poker games, let alone launched an online poker site in that time.
On top of that you have Sheldon Adelson “spending whatever it takes” to ban online gambling.
Adelson allies in Congress are working hard at the federal level to get the Restoration of America’s Wire Act bill passed. And they’re working a bit more in the shadows at the state level, where Adelson has deployed his anti-online gambling lobby group, the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, to stall efforts in any state seriously considering iGaming expansion.
As bad as this seems, don’t despair. There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future of regulated online gambling in the United States.
Here are four of them.
Reason #4: Federal legislation seems extremely unlikely
It doesn’t matter if you’re for online gaming or against it, the idea that Congress – the same Congress who has trouble funding vital government programs – is going to come together and pass what will surely be a politically toxic vote is close to zero.
Sheldon Adelson’s proposed online gambling ban, RAWA, has already been kneecapped. And any attorney general worth his salt isn’t going to backpedal on the current interpretation of the law.
Joe Barton’s attempt at legalizing online poker at the federal level is simply not going to happen. Even the Poker Players Alliance has moved off poker-only at the federal level.
When it comes to online gambling, the safest vote for a sitting member of Congress is simply not to vote on online gambling.
The good news is that we no longer need federal legislation.
Thanks to a 2011 decision by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel, states have been given the green light to make that decision for themselves without fear of running afoul of some ambiguous federal gaming law.
Reason #3: Expansion is inevitable
It may seem like iGaming expansion is happening at a snail’s pace, but the fact of the matter is we’re less than four years removed from the OLC opinion on the Wire Act that gave states the opportunity to pass online gambling bills, and there were only three early adopters.
Nevada was already prepping an online poker bill before the opinion occurred, and Delaware and New Jersey fast-tracked bills. These three states, along with the legislative/stakeholder miasma that is California, are the legislative outliers.
For most state legislatures online gambling is a brand new, and at best tertiary, issue.
This means a lot of time needs to be dedicated to getting lawmakers up to speed on the varied issues involved, explaining the benefits, crafting the proposed bill, and querying state regulators (if the state even has a gaming commission).
This takes time, and building enough support for what amounts to a bill to expand gambling doesn’t happen overnight.
To quote an often used LOTR Internet meme, “One does not simply pass an online gambling law.”
Fortunately, so long as nothing changes at the federal level, several states will pass online gaming bills before 2020. It may seem like a long time to wait, but measured in legislative time, online gambling is progressing at a fairly expedient pace.
We have three states with legalized online gambling industries, and several others considering expansion.
Reason #2: Operators are finally “getting it”
Online gambling is no longer considered just another source of revenue.
From casual player-friendly promotions and rewards to a synergistic approach to live and online poker, the casino corporations that have entered the space have discovered online gambling can be used in a number of diverse ways.
The remaining companies appear to be the ones that want to be in the market long-term, and have learned to handle the challenges and ever-evolving landscape of this new vertical.
It felt like many expected iGaming to be a turnkey operation and they now understand it’s not quite that easy, but they also are discovering exciting new ways to utilize online gaming beyond “revenue.”
Reason #1: New initiatives
Another sign that poker is far from dead is the amount of investment that is still coming into the industry.
Since Black Friday there has been very little televised poker. That changed in 2014 when Poker Night in America was launched. The show is somewhat reminiscent of televised poker during the poker boom, and has already attracted one licensed operator as a sponsor, 888.
In 2015 Poker Central, a yet-to-be launched 24/7 TV channel dedicated to poker was created, and has already put together some quality programming.
We also have the many initiatives of Alex Dreyfus, including his Global Poker League, which recently raised nearly $5 million in investment funding. And despite the investment coming from China, Dreyfus is still focused on the U.S. poker market.
The point is, entrepreneurs haven’t given up on poker. Players may be pessimistic about poker in the U.S., but entrepreneurs are still bullish on the market.
And well they should be.
In early 2010 there were an average of 20,000 to 25,000 online cash game players from the U.S. at any given time, currently there are about 4,000 when you combine traffic at regulated and unregulated U.S. online poker rooms.
Online poker is currently a shell of itself in the U.S., so when online poker comes back you can expect televised poker to come back. And expect traffic at live poker rooms to grow as well.
If I was an investor, and someone came to me for advice on poker stocks, I’d be telling them to buy with all the demonstrative mannerisms of Jim Cramer.