The Impact of US Midterm Elections on Regulated Online Gambling

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While online gambling wasn’t directly at issue in any particular race or referendum, the 2014 midterm elections included a number of votes with implications for online gambling regulation.

State elections: win some, lose some


Voters in Massachusetts rejected a measure that would have rolled back land-based casino authorization.

That was a win for online gambling advocates, who are behind land-based expansion in the political priority line. A rollback would have also signaled a climate deeply opposed to gambling expansion in general.


Tom Corbett’s defeat in Pennsylvania’s governor race can be characterized as a loss for those who would like to see regulated online poker and casino games come to the Keystone State (although it may ultimately prove to be more of a wash).

Corbett was not a vocal supporter nor an ardent opponent of regulation. As for the newly-elected Gov. Tom Wolf, his on-record position is opposed.

That position may evolve as Wolf is forced to find revenue to support his campaign promises.


The defeat of Pat Quinn is likely a win for online gambling proponents. Like Massachusetts, Illinois politicians have clearly placed online gambling in line behind land-based expansion.

While victor Bruce Rauner is far from an outspoken supporter of gambling expansion, early analysis is that he’s more amenable to the topic than Quinn.

Quinn’s antipathy toward land-based gambling – manifested in multiple vetoes of bills that would have expanded casinos in Illinois – effectively served as a roadblock for online gambling regulation.

And what little Quinn had to say about online gambling was generally negative.


Rick Scott’s re-election in Florida represents a clear setback for online gambling supporters.

Scott has been a recipient of Sheldon Adelson’s largess (directly and indirectly) and publicly called on Congress to support an online gambling ban earlier this year.

His re-election calls into question what momentum online gambling regulation may realistically have in Florida, a state frequently mentioned as one of the next wave of potential markets for regulated online poker.

Federal elections

The federal race with the most significant implications for those watching the online gambling space was battle over control of the Senate.

The GOP’s victory in that battle raises two important considerations for online gambling regulation.

The lame duck cometh

The lame duck dynamic is now set: Harry Reid will wield control over the Senate for only a few more weeks, with the GOP taking over power come the new year.

It’s hard for me to imagine a world in which this dynamic moves RAWA forward – at least in its current form. Reid and other Democrats will have little incentive to sign off on a bill so clearly backed by Sheldon Adelson, and Obama even less so.

But it’s easier to imagine a scenario in which a version of RAWA that hews more to the Reid-Kyl effort of 2012 – which banned many forms of online gambling but explicitly legalized online poker – gets a serious push from Reid.

I still suspect almost all involved have more to gain from stasis than progress on this issue. But I’ll admit that the GOP victory muddies the predictive waters.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss?

Once the lame duck wraps, we move into the post-Reid era – one where Mitch McConnell will likely hold the reigns of the Senate.

But, despite their control, the GOP will not have the numbers to move bills through the body without some measure of Democratic support.

And, like Reid, McConnell has strong ties to the gambling industry.

A RAWA-esque bill certainly has a clearer path through the new Senate than the old Senate. And Adelson likely bought a few backup favors in the House with a well-placed October donation that apparently helped tip hotly-contested races the GOP’s way.

But that clearer path doesn’t address the core issues stymying RAWA’s path to actually becoming law, including, but hardly limited to:

Much as stasis carries more reward than action in the lame duck, so too will the next two years likely bring little beyond the status quo when it comes to online gambling regulation at the federal level.

- Chris is the publisher of Grove also serves as a consultant to various stakeholders in the regulated market for online gambling in the United States.
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