Online Poker Bill Delayed in Kentucky; Status in Other States Updated

Sean Chaffin February 12, 2021
Online Poker Bill Delayed in Kentucky; Status in Other States Updated

The launch of legal online poker in Michigan gives many players some hope of more to come. Several states have seen movement in that direction in recent weeks with varying hopes for success.

Players in Kentucky will at least have to wait another year to see any legislation move forward. State Rep. Adam Koenig (R) introduced a bill in January that would legalize online poker and real money online casino games.

However, recent legislative needs regarding the casino industry have put iGaming on the back burner, Koenig told USPoker.

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Slot-like games supersede Kentucky online gaming including poker

A recent state supreme court ruling on the state’s historical horse racing (HHR) games have left legislators scrambling. HHR games function like online slot machines but results are based on actual horse races from the past.

The court recently ruled that the machines don’t meet the state’s definition of parimutuel wagering. That means thousands of machines in the state are technically illegal.

“Betting on HHR slot machines has grown 463 percent in the last five years, and will total approximately $3.6 billion this year,” the Lexington Herald Leader notes. “That’s three times more than Kentuckians will buy in lottery tickets, and twice what is bet on the lottery and live horse racing combined.”

That makes online poker an afterthought and Koenig says he’s hoping to bring back the issue next year. The legislative session is short and HHR games have taken priority.

“This bill is on hold while we deal with a state supreme court ruling on our historical horse racing machines,” Koenig said. “Until that is settled no action will occur on my bill.

“Although always hopeful, given we have already gone through 11 of our 30 days we can be in session, it will be a heavy lift to get it across the finish line this year.”

After resolving the HHR issue, Koenig feels the iGaming bill will have a better shot at passage. With 4.5 million people, Kentucky could add a decent player pool to the growing US online poker market.

Online gaming gains traction in Connecticut

Indiana isn’t the only state considering online poker as a larger effort at regulated and secure online gambling – including sports betting. Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) also seems amenable to iGaming expansion.

Any effort would have to navigate gaming stakeholders like the state’s two Indian tribes, the lottery, and off-track betting, according to Online Poker Report.

Lamont previously expressed opposition to online gaming, but state revenue after the pandemic may have changed that.

Connecticut Online Poker
A look at the Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut.

Lamont recently expressed support and a bill has been introduced to legalize online gaming. That would include sports betting and iGaming, which would probably also include poker.

The bill names the Mashantucket Pequot and the Mohegan tribes as the only online casino and sports betting operators. That would be “subject to new or amended agreements with the tribes.”

The tribes operate the states only casinos in the state – Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods. On Wednesday, Lamont included $50 million in iGaming revenue in his 2022-23 budget and expressed his support for legalization.

“Our neighboring states are moving forward with sports betting and iGaming,” Lamont said a budget address to the general assembly, “and Connecticut should not leave these opportunities for other states to benefit from our inaction.”

Connecticut has a population of 3.6 million. That would mean a small pool of players for Connecticut online poker, but a decent addition to interstate compacts. There remains plenty of governmental heavy lifting however.

North Dakota statewide election considered

The Senate Judiciary Committee in North Dakota recently approved a ballot initiative legalizing online poker. The proposal would then need a majority of votes in both halves of the legislature before going to the voters.

Next the proposal would need a majority of voters to approve. Rep. Jim Kasper (R) has been one of those leading the efforts at legalization.

He believes the timing is right to move forward after other states like Michigan and West Virginia have launched online gaming.

“The accusations have been ‘how do you police the legitimacy of the game?’” Kasper told Valley News Live. “And the question has been pretty well-answered over the years. There’s a lot of protection for the players and there [are] audits being done.” 

Kasper led a similar effort in 2005 but that received a bad hand. The Justice Department at the time opined that online poker was illegal.

More recent department opinions have ruled online gaming legal on a state-by-state basis. A federal appeals court recently ruled that the Wire Act applies solely to sports betting.

That would allow smaller population states like North Dakota to join interstate compacts. With 762,000 people, North Dakota seems unlikely to support its own poker market. However, joining other states could produce larger player and prize pools.

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Indiana and other states to watch

Efforts continue at online gaming in Indiana. Sen. Jon Ford (R) introduced a bill in January. However, passing a bill is an uphill battle with a legislative session running only through April.

The Hoosier State effort also includes online casino gaming. Indiana has seen nice revenue since online sports betting went live in September 2019.

Ford hopes to add online gaming to that. He’s working to get the bill before the Senate Public Policy Committee. His proposal would allow the state’s 14 casinos and “racinos” to offer Internet gaming and poker. Properties could partner with up to three online gaming companies.

In Michigan, players seem to be enjoying playing at PokerStars so far. The site remains the only operator and has seen nice numbers in Sunday majors.

PokerStars officially launched in Michigan on Jan. 29.
A look at PokerStars Michigan.

Stars has been quick to get the party started in Michigan. The company recently announced the state’s first online poker series.

The Michigan Championship of Online Poker (MICOOP) runs Feb. 20 to March 8 with $1 million guaranteed across 60 events.

In Pennsylvania, PokerStars still remains the online operator. WSOP.com/888poker and partypoker have also been approved but poker players are still awaiting a launch date.

In other PA online poker news, GGPoker was granted a manufacturer’s license in the state. That means it could provide its software for another gaming entity. The company would need an operator’s license to launch its own branded platform

The recent Wire Act ruling could mean additional real money online poker shared player pools among states. Any efforts in that regard may take some time as they work their way through various regulatory bodies.

There’s been some movement in the US online poker industry not see in years.

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