David Licht Of The All American Poker Network

AAPN CEO David Licht: Pennsylvania Online Poker “Still On The Table”

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The expansion of legal online poker in the U.S. started out like gangbusters, but has stalled following the early adopter states launching in 2013.

That being said, it would be an error to confused “stalled” for “ended,” as there are plenty of stakeholders still fighting for expansion.

All American Poker Network (AAPN) CEO David Licht is one of those interested parties. The AAPN, an online poker network currently operating in Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey, sees the potential of the U.S. market.

In fact, Licht sounded bullish when I discussed online poker expansion and the direction the industry is heading in the coming years, particularly in the states of New York and Pennsylvania.

New York hearing played unexciting, but necessary, role

The recent online poker hearing hosted by the New York Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee was far from a needle mover. The hearing was largely informational in nature, designed to get lawmakers up to speed on the issue.

In Licht’s opinion, it’s of great importance to educate lawmakers about the safeguards legal online gaming sites have in place and how illegal online gambling, which lacks these safeguards, is happening all around them.

“It’s new to them,” Licht stated, adding that some lawmakers are currently focused on the brick & mortar casinos and don’t have the motivation or bandwidth to thoroughly investigate other options like online gambling.

Without these types of informational hearings, their knowledge of online gambling might be based on the rhetoric they see in newspapers or what some lobbyist has whispered in their ear.

Licht was also happy to see the hearing focus on the importance of liquidity and the potential for interstate agreements. He’s not sure if New York would launch with interstate agreements in place, but granted that it’s a possibility.

During a back and forth between New York State Senator John Bonacic, the author of the state’s iPoker bill, and Tom Ballance, the President and CEO of Borgata, there were some intimations of a potential New Jersey/New York compact, most notably when Ballance indicated New York could save itself a lot of time and money by simply adopting New Jersey’s model for regulating online poker.

Licht sees 2016 as year for movement in New York

Licht sees potential for legislative movement in 2016 thanks to the situation playing out just across New York’s borders.

Because of iGaming’s sustained growth in New Jersey throughout 2015 (growth Licht expects to continue in 2016), and the potential for progress in Pennsylvania, Licht feels the economic argument in New York for regulation could become stronger in the next session.

Licht expects New Jersey’s 2015 growth to continue into 2016 (year-over-year revenue is up over 20%), something that could change the current “disappointing” narrative New Jersey’s online gambling industry has been tagged with.

As Licht noted, “It’s much more dangerous to take a wait and see approach.”

Licht sees the conservative approach of waiting as the far more risky short-term choice, not only for the consumer in terms of protections, but also for the state as they lose out on the tax dollars currently going overseas.

Licht foresees New York pushing hard for online poker next year, with the important caveat that all the right pieces (continued growth in New Jersey and Pennsylvania passing an iGaming bill this year or in early 2016) would have to fall into place.

Online poker “still on the table” in Pennsylvania

888 and the AAPN have a rooting interest in seeing Pennsylvania pass an online gambling bill, as they have partnered with Mount Airy Casino.

This is likely part of the reason the AAPN CEO isn’t ready to give up on online gambling being a part of the Pennsylvania’s 2016 budget like some other have.

“It’s definitely still on the table […] $100 million [in revenue] is hard to ignore,” Licht said.

Licht is also of the mind that passage in Pennsylvania would help accelerate efforts in other nearby states like New York. And, like myself, Licht believes Pennsylvania will outperform the early estimates, as he feels analysts may have overcorrected after missing so badly on New Jersey in 2013.

Less optimism for California’s online poker push

In California 888 and the AAPN have partnered with Bay 101 Casino, and will likely continue their iGaming partnership with Caesars Entertainment through the Harrah’s Rincon Casino.

With the California legislature swinging and missing for the eighth consecutive year, Licht isn’t too optimistic about online poker legalization in California in the coming years.

“I don’t have a tremendous amount of confidence in the tribes getting on the same page,” Licht said.

PokerStars will ultimately help AAPN in New Jersey

What impact will PokerStars have when they are finally approved by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement?

Licht is using the same rhetoric as other CEOs, indicating that the addition of PokerStars will be good for consumer awareness and therefore good for growth.

This is pretty much a given considering PokerStars is expected to launch with a heavy marketing spend. Licht went on to say that in the short-term AAPN would likely lose some players to PokerStars, but in the long-run he feels it will be a net gain for his network.

Nevada / Delaware compact proof of concept

A lot was expected by analysts (including myself) when Delaware and Nevada decided to pair up and offer interstate online poker. Unfortunately, the increase in players has been negligible up to this point.

Licht seemed unsurprised by this, saying, “the boost wasn’t large because of the population of the two states.”

But for Licht the interstate agreement has been beneficial in other ways. “It’s been helpful to show compacts work,” Licht stated, adding that from a regulatory point of view it’s been very successful.

- Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus for OPR is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.
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