Pin Your Online Gambling Regulation Hopes To These 4 States In 2016

These 4 States Have The Best Chance To Legalize Online Gambling In 2016

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California, New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania.

These are the four states we’ve targeted as the most likely to pass online poker legislation in 2016. Here is why.


California has been working on online poker legislation for nine years, and even though some progress has been made, the state’s numerous tribal casinos, racetracks, and card rooms have been unable to get on the same page when it comes to the specifics of an online poker expansion bill.

One tribal faction, led by Pechanga, opposes PokerStars’ involvement (PokerStars has partnered with a separate faction of card rooms and tribes) and wants to prohibit racetracks from gaining access to operator licenses. In all, there are at least five different and ever-shifting factions.

This, along with the deep-seated, tumultuous relationship between the state’s gaming tribes and legal card rooms, and the complicated regulatory system in place (the state uses a bifurcated system with duties split between the governor’s office and the attorney general’s office, on top of each tribe’s own regulators), makes finding a compromise between the 60 plus tribal casinos, 80 plus card rooms, and seven racetracks a very heavy lift.

Still, the state made significant progress in 2015, and there are several reasons to be optimistic about potential online poker legalization:

Bottom line: There are still a lot of issues that need to be resolved in California before an online poker bill can be considered viable, and considering 2016 is an election year, it seems unlikely the stars will align for the Golden State.

New York

New York is another state that has toyed with the idea of online gaming expansion for a few years, but the state was far more focused on brick and mortar expansion, which comes with the built-in excuse “let’s focus on one thing at a time.”

However, with its brick and mortar casinos mostly squared away, and with its southern neighbor looking like a pretty safe bet to expand into online gambling, New York may start giving online gaming a second, more serious look in 2016.

If Pennsylvania passes an online gaming bill, it should light a fire under New York as it would put New York at a competitive disadvantage with two neighboring states, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

But the bigger issue in New York at the moment is DFS. DFS could assist or derail any online poker and online gaming talk. Depending on how the courts rule, it could force the legislature to create a DFS bill, allowing online poker champions like Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow or State Senator John Bonacic to make the same case (a need for consumer protections and clarity of law) for online poker.

Even if New York does get serious about online gaming regulation, the state still seems to be at least a year away from being able to get a bill passed for several reasons:

  • The state’s brick and mortar casinos are still in the construction phase, and the old “let’s do one thing at a time” argument could keep the status quo in place.
  • The state is looking at a poker-only model, and the revenue is simply not there to make this type of gaming expansion appealing to many lawmakers who might be on the fence.
  • The state has yet to host informational hearings, nor has it commissioned studies like the other states on this list, and it will take time to get most lawmakers up to speed on online gambling.

Bottom line: Even if New York gets serious, the state has a lot of leg work to do, and we have no idea what types of roadblocks will present themselves during the process. I wouldn’t expect expansion before 2017.


Like New York, Massachusetts has looked into online gaming expansion in the past. And as with its westerly neighbor, online gaming expansion hasn’t gained any traction; although Massachusetts has held informational hearings on the topic.

Like New York, Massachusetts is also in the throes of brick and mortar casino expansion, and one of the state’s three casinos (two of which are under construction) is owned by Steve Wynn, who has expressed his skepticism of online gambling.

On the bright side:

Bottom line: Massachusetts is the hardest of the four states to gauge. Historically the state adopts a slow and steady approach to this type of legislation, but it looks like the pieces are all falling into place for online gaming to have a real chance of passing in 2016.


Pennsylvania is closer to passing an online gaming bill than any other U.S. state.

After flirting with online gaming expansion in 2013 and 2014, Pennsylvania got serious about it in 2015, as the need to find new revenue streams without raising taxes became a priority in the legislature.

Pennsylvania is expected to take up the issue in early 2016, and is a favorite to pass an online gaming bill (along with other gaming reforms) by the spring, using the revenue generated from the reforms to plug a hole in the state’s pension program.

The reasons online gaming expansion in Pennsylvania looks so promising in 2016 are that all but one of the state’s brick and mortar casino operators are on board with online gaming expansion (the lone holdout being the Sheldon Adelson-owned Sands Bethlehem) and the fact that all of heavy lifting has already been done; the only step left is passing a bill.

Still, this isn’t a done deal. Several issues could thwart Pennsylvania’s efforts:

  • The state is attempting to pass a comprehensive gaming reform package, which means that each reform could cause support to wane, and a single poison pill could kill the entire thing.
  • One of the reforms, DFS, could become such a wedge issue, as lawmakers might disagree over whether or not DFS should be considered gambling or a “skill game,” and how it should be regulated. This could lead to a new debate and slow online gaming expansion.
  • The tax rate the state will impose on online gambling operators remains unresolved at this point, with the House calling for a 14 percent tax on gross gaming revenue, while the Senate’s bill imposed a 54 percent tax on GGR.
  • And of course, there is Sheldon Adelson. As noted, Adelson owns a Pennsylvania casino, and will likely be working overtime to thwart online gaming expansion in 2016.

Bottom line: Pennsylvania is closer to passing an online gaming bill than any state since New Jersey passed its online gambling bill in February of 2013. But, if Pennsylvania doesn’t pass an online gambling bill in 2016, it will be a major disappointment for the industry and advocates of regulated online gambling. Additionally, with current operators (as well as affiliates and other ancillary vendors) biding their time waiting for more states to come online, it could also be the proverbial death knell for regulated online gaming in the U.S., as they can only suffer losses for so long before throwing in the towel.

- 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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