2015 In U.S. Online Gambling And What To Expect In 2016
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12 Stories That Mattered And 10 That Will: Wrapping Up The Year In Online Poker

U.S. online poker in 2015
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A look back at the continued developments in the United States legal online gaming industry that occurred over the course of 2015, and some predictions for 2016.

Month by month highlights

January

WSOP and 888 combine player pools in New Jersey

2015 started off with an interesting move by 888 and WSOP.com as the two independent online poker rooms decided to pool liquidity across many, but not all of their cash games and tournaments.

The pooling allowed the new network to surge past rivals partypoker and Borgata in terms of cash game traffic, but the partypoker and Borgata network has maintained its monthly revenue lead.

February

Pennsylvania gets serious about online gambling expansion

In February, we got our first taste of what would wind up being a 10 months and counting process by the Pennsylvania legislature to legalize online gambling. It started with the introduction of Representative John Payne’s HB 649, which remains the most likely vehicle for iGaming expansion in Pennsylvania – something that is still on the table thanks to a historic delay in passing the state’s budget, despite Christmas being right around the corner.

March

Nevada and Delaware launch interstate online poker

In March of 2015, Nevada and Delaware launched their long-anticipated interstate online poker network.

The pooling of players by the two sparsely populated states hasn’t led to the surge in traffic some expected, but it has been a success from a regulatory and technological point of view, and sets the stage for future interstate compacts.

April

New MCC codes are introduced

After over a year of lobbying by online gaming operators, Visa and MasterCard added a new merchant code category that differentiates legal online gambling from unregulated online gambling. Like everything else in the U.S. online gambling market, the impact thus far has been negligible.

May

GeoComply puts bogeyman arguments to rest

Apparently fed up with politicians and anti-online gambling supporters vilifying the industry, GeoComply decided to fight back after Lyle Beckwith of the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) penned an op-ed in which he questioned the efficacy of among other things, geolocation technology.

June

New Jersey DGE sets iGaming affiliate bright line

One of the more frustrating aspects of the legal online gaming markets in the U.S. has been the continued inability to shut down offshore operators. The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement came up with an interesting way to deal with this, realizing that the easiest way to root out this problem was to go after the affiliates that promote these sites.

In June the DGE set a bright line date, giving all affiliates 150 days to either choose between the legal markets or continuing to promote offshore sites. Any affiliate choosing the latter would be shut out from future licensing in New Jersey, and most likely all legal markets, in perpetuity.

July

AGA starts to covertly support online gambling regulation

After frustrating online gambling advocates for over a year, the American Gaming Association started to covertly move off of its “no position” position when it comes to online gambling.

The AGA is still not willing to publicly advocate for regulated online gambling, but there are signs that its position is softening, most notably, AGA President Geoff Freeman’s comments during an appearance on Ralston Live linked to above.

August

PayPal quietly enters the legal online gaming fray

In August, PayPal quietly reversed a policy that spanned back over a decade in the United States, when the company started accepting deposits and withdrawals from legal online gaming sites.

September

PokerStars approved for New Jersey online gambling license

It occurred on the last day of September, but the issuance of a transactional waiver to PokerStars by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement allowed to the U.S. online poker community to fist pump for the first time in a long time.

The latest reports have PokerStars launching sometime in the first half of 2016, but for New Jersey players, the launch can’t happen soon enough.

October

The DFS scandal that won’t go away

Once the hullabaloo over PokerStars’ license died down, iGaming was put on the back burner and the entire world’s attention was drawn to daily fantasy sports after a scandal erupted involving the premature posting of sensitive data by a DraftKings employee.

The scandal has led to massive amounts of scrutiny for the DFS industry, and hastened calls to regulate the industry in a number of states. It has also led to DFS being classified as gambling (for now) in Nevada and New York.

November

The Pennsylvania omnibus bill rekindles iGaming push

After it appeared that any online gambling expansion in the U.S. would have to wait at least another year, Pennsylvania’s budget impasse suddenly reopened the door for online gambling expansion. This story is still developing, and it appears it could go either way.

December

RAWA is declared dead

We’re not through with December, but unless Pennsylvania legalizes online gambling, the big story of the month has to be the death of RAWA.

The bill isn’t officially dead, but following a hearing that couldn’t have gone worse for RAWA supporters, many industry analysts feel we’ve seen the last serious push for a federal online gambling ban.

I feel like something is missing from the list?

Oh, that’s right, California!

What was once seen as the next domino to fall in U.S. online poker has turned into a quagmire with no resolution in sight. Although, there was one positive development in California this year, as Caesars and PokerStars forged to an agreement to fight a common enemy.

This agreement (nonaggression pact) to focus their efforts on fighting Sheldon Adelson, has seen potential stakeholders across the country (sans California) now pretty much on the same page in terms of the framework for online gambling bills.

10 predictions for online gambling in 2016

  1. Massachusetts shocks the world and legalizes online gambling.
  2. Unable to find a way to generate revenue without overburdening the industry, very few states act on DFS legislation, leaving the “is it legal/is it illegal” battles up to state attorneys general.
  3. The major DFS operators will continue to come under legal fire, with Florida supplying the most heat.
  4. A New Jersey racetrack will accept a sports bet in 2016.
  5. Congress begins what will be a years-long process of repealing (or perhaps simply neutering) PASPA.
  6. PokerStars’ launch in New Jersey has a modest impact by the end of 2016, but the buzz surrounding the launch, and a sudden jolt in participation immediately following the launch, reignites the buzz surrounding online gambling that we saw in 2013.
  7. The regulated online gaming industry will deal with its first scandal. It could be anything from a cheating scandal involving players to a geolocation or player verification failure.
  8. Daniel Negreanu will not be a PokerStars employee by the time 2017 rolls around.
  9. With the launch of PokerStars in new Jersey, Jason Somerville will be the face of online poker in the United States.
  10. Borgata and partypoker will begin to sever ties in New Jersey.
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Steve Ruddock
- 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.