In a bull case …
In a bear case …
Here’s a more detailed take on the key issues, events and arenas that will ultimately steer the industry in one direction or another in the year ahead.
By nearly all accounts, California is the state with the best chance of passing an online poker bill in 2015 (although launch would be in 2016 at the earliest).
The process got off to an early start in December, when Assemblyman Mike Gatto introduced AB 9.
Gatto’s bill is unlikely to be the last voice in the conversation, and – as Gatto told OPR in an exclusive interview – is itself a work in progress.
Here’s what to watch in California:
But sources close to the process told OPR that no small part of that progress was purely political theater and that Pennsylvania lawmakers lack the motivation to actually move a bill forward.
Here’s what to watch in Pennsylvania:
As it currently stands, California and Pennsylvania alone have a realistic chance of passing a poker bill into law during 2015.
But a number of other states could move the ball forward before the calendar closes.
New York’s nearly 20m residents would provide a sustainable – and potentially lucrative – online poker market.
But passing an online poker bill does not appear to be a legislative priority.
It’s hard to see online poker getting serious play in Springfield this year. But the passing of the gubernatorial baton from Pat Quinn to Bruce Rauner might at least ungum the works.
More importantly, online gambling is unlikely to be addressed in Illinois before the question of land-based expansion is solved.
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.
Like Illinois, Massachusetts lawmakers have been clear that the land-based casino expansion dust must settle prior to any serious consideration of online.
Massachusetts is now miles closer to a functioning land-based industry than it was a year ago. And that, by definition, should allow online gambling the space to advance as well.
Washington State remains arguably the least-friendly place for online poker players as the only state to explicitly make playing online a felony (I’m unaware of any actual charges filed under the law).
But that reputation may be turning with news that Curtis Woodard has found a lawmaker willing to sponsor his online poker bill.
Should that come to pass, it will be just the first step of many required – but a critical step nonetheless.
Adelson’s support within the GOP ensures that RAWA will rear its head in 2015 – most likely in the form of a hearing or two.
But the chance that the bill will come up for a vote or become law remain incredibly remote. Just a small sample of the many hurdles:
Keeping the issue in play keeps Adelson’s money flowing. Expect talk on the federal level in 2015 – not substantive action.
Past specific states and the federal government, a number of scenarios set to play out in 2015 could carry significant implications for regulated U.S. online poker.
That arrangement is expected to launch in the first half of 2015, although past (admittedly soft) launch targets have come and gone.
The significance of player sharing between the states for their respective markets is obvious. Both can use literally every player they can get.
But there’s a broader impact in play.
If Nevada and Delaware execute, it could trigger other small-population states that might not have considered online poker to give the activity a look.
After all, collecting a few million in tax revenue while someone else does the heavy technological and regulatory lifting is nothing to sneeze at.
And the launch of Nevada / Delaware is almost certainly a necessary precursor to New Jersey linking up with either state.
The launch doesn’t guarantee New Jersey will join, but it will force the issue on a number of levels.
Lottery is bar far the most ubiquitous form of gambling in the United States, and online lottery is the most natural initial iGaming product for the majority of states.
According to research from GamblingCompliance, some form of online lottery is offered or authorized in a dozen states. And legislatures in three to five states will consider the issue of online lottery sales in 2015.
The general momentum and success rate of those initiatives will be a useful barometer for iGaming’s broader chances. And a state with online lottery is, I’d argue, far closer to offering online poker than a state without online lottery – all other things being equal.
MGM wasn’t an active force in the U.S. regulated online gambling market when 2014 closed. That status is likely to change by the end of 2015.
The company is back in the good graces of New Jersey regulators, paving the way for an online launch there. And MGM is thought to be gearing up for an iGaming launch in Nevada as well.
It’s not just MGM’s formidable land-based footprint and financial clout that makes them an iGaming force to be reckoned with.
It’s also that, thanks to MGM’s runaway success with myVEGAS, the company arguably gets the potential of online more so than most of its peers.
PokerStars entering doesn’t change the rules of the game in either market.
Both markets will still have to deal with their population constraints, regulatory hurdles, payment processing problems (and so on) in either case.
To say it another way: Delaware would probably still be a moribund market even if PokerStars was running the show.
But PokerStars can bend the rules a bit, helping a market to punch above its weight by generating consumer interest, bringing an arguably superior product to market and generally executing to a level befitting the world’s dominant online poker site.