How The US Online Poker Picture Looks After Election Day

November 8, 2018
How The US Online Poker Picture Looks After Election Day

In October, we explored how various results in the midterm elections could affect online poker in the United States. Now that the results of the election are in, let’s examine the outlook for online poker going forward.

Nevada can breathe a sigh of relief

Online poker advocates in the Silver State dodged a bullet Tuesday night. The candidate who may have spelled doom for peer-to-peer wagering fell short in his bid for the governor’s mansion.

Republican state attorney general Adam Laxalt managed to secure 45.9 percent of the vote. However, his Democratic opponent, Steve Sisolak, garnered 48.8 percent of the electorate.

Laxalt held a staunch anti-online poker position and would have undoubtedly used his influence to work against its existence in Nevada. His biggest donor and supporter was Venetian owner Sheldon Adelson, whose crusade against online gaming is both unabated and well-documented.

Instead, Nevadans elected a Democrat as governor for the first time in decades. Sisolak has made no public statements about online gaming, but almost anything is better for its outlook than Laxalt.

California stays the same, and will likely stay the same on online poker

As expected, the two candidates in California most supportive of online poker won their elections without much difficulty. Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer ran unopposed for his seat, so there was no question about the outcome.

Any question about Assemblyman Adam Gray‘s race quickly faded as well. The Democrat defeated his only challenger, Libertarian Justin Quigley, by a margin of 43,023 to 49. That margin is not a typo.

New governor Gavin Newsom‘s win was not so lopsided. However, the current lieutenant governor defeated Republican John Cox decisively by winning 57.1 percent of the vote.

For online poker’s purposes, the governor’s election was mostly a wash. Neither candidate had indicated a strong position on the issue, and neither mentioned it as a priority.

The main obstacle for California online poker interests remains the powerful gaming interests in the state. The tribal casino, cardroom, and racetrack stakeholders simply cannot find any measure of agreement about what online poker’s form should be in the Golden State.

Unfortunately, it does not appear that any of the actions last night solved that issue.

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Michigan may still be on track

The Michigan Legislature was destined to flip its lineup dramatically as the result of this election. Most of its seats were up for grabs, and many incumbents found themselves term-limited and unable to run again.

Term limitations claimed the first legislator to introduce an online gambling bill to Michigan lawmakers. Sen. Mike Kowall, a Republican, put the matter before a Senate committee in 2016, but the matter stalled out.

Election website Ballotpedia identified Kowall’s seat as one of the battleground races in Michigan. The Associated Press is now reporting that Republican Jim Runestad has won Kowall’s seat and will replace him.

Runestad is a former state representative who has now successfully made the leap to the other chamber. Unfortunately, he voted against Rep. Brandt Iden‘s online gambling bill in the House, so he is likely not a friend of the issue.

The bill, which passed the House, must now pass the Senate to become law. Although it’s unlikely that he’ll change his mind, Runestad has voted in favor of gambling bills in the past, so his contention is not a done deal.

Iden himself faced a strong challenge from Democrat Alberta Griffin. However, he managed to edge Griffin by roughly 1,000 votes, so Michigan’s most recent online gambling proponent will return for another term.

Overall, both chambers of Michigan’s legislature remained Republican, albeit less than before. Whether that will translate into activity on an online gambling bill is unclear.

New York now fully blue, but that may not be good for online poker

Before Tuesday night’s election, New York‘s lone bastion of Republican resistance was a razor-thin majority in the New York Senate. That resistance is now gone, and New York’s lawmaking capacity is firmly with the Democrats.

One Senate seat to change colors was that of retiring Senator John Bonacic. Democrat Jen Metzger will replace the Republican Bonacic, who was online gambling’s most vocal proponent in the New York legislature.

Metzger is a former mayor and city councilwoman, so her position on gambling is somewhat fuzzy. However, the legislative fiat now present in the Empire State may push other issues to the forefront first.

Elsewhere, Democrat Gary Pretlow did indeed win his unopposed re-election. Pretlow’s record with online poker remains a frustrating one, with the Mount Vernon representative continuing to string poker advocates along with mixed messages.

New York lawmakers have, in general, acted with a bizarre level of apathy towards the latest trends in gambling. They watched ambivalently as New York citizens moved en masse across state lines to place sports bets in New Jersey, for instance, and failed to pass any kind of bill to stop the flow.

Why nobody in Albany seems concerned about moving quickly to capture those tax dollars is a mystery. However, given the absence of Bonacic, it seems likely that the same attitude will continue for the foreseeable future.

Florida voters effectively lose control by taking it from the legislature

Finally, Florida voters overwhelmingly passed an amendment to the Florida constitution on Tuesday night. The amendment gives voters the exclusive authority to expand gambling within the state.

The amendment passed with an over 71 percent approval rating. On the surface, the amendment is a win for individual rights and smaller government.

However, the feared effect of the amendment is a sudden halt of any sort of gambling expansion in the state. Three bills to refine the current gambling statutes on the books are now rendered moot and useless.

State legislators also cannot propose any sort of expansion that the legislature could make into law. Any expansions would be subject to a voter referendum.

The big winners, therefore, are the existing casino interests in the state. The primary interest is the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which actively supported the amendment’s passage.

Language in the amendment will also choke down on various games that have been available in Florida up to this point. The most notable of these are so-called “designated player” card games, which allowed players to play, essentially, casino-style table games.

So, the bottom line is that Floridians should probably enjoy the casinos they have right now, because it is unlikely any more are on the way. They should also realize that they have essentially handed complete control of an industry to the Seminoles – an industry worth hundreds of millions of dollars.


Overall, things mostly stayed the same as they were before the election. However, there are no indications that the prospects of online poker have improved anywhere as a result.

In a few cases, matters are now worse for online poker, worse for online casinos, and a dire prediction about sports betting. We’re looking at you right now, Florida.

The nice thing about elections, though, is that another one always comes around soon enough.

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