Supreme Court struck down federal sports betting ban

Will Lawmakers Merge Sports Betting And Online Gambling Efforts?

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The US Supreme Court issued a decision on Monday that overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (more commonly known as PASPA), a quarter-century-old federal prohibition on sports betting.

The news has the collective sports and gaming worlds positively abuzz.

Gaming companies saw their stocks soar on the news, and everyone from the NFL to MGM to DraftKings is weighing in on what the SCOTUS decision means.

The decision has also led to rampant speculation on everything from which states will legalize sports betting in the coming year, to its legislative impact on other forms of gambling, particularly online poker and casino games.

On the latter front, online poker advocates are hopeful that Monday’s ruling is the proverbial “in” for poker legislation.

The theory is that while states are rushing to legalize sports betting it will create an opportunity for online poker to piggyback sports betting legislation.

Can online gambling ride sports betting’s coattails?

The coupling of sports betting and online poker/gaming might occur in some states, but it’s more likely to be the exception and not the norm.

In order for sports betting and online poker to harmoniously merge into a single piece of legislation, several dynamics will need to be in place. As such, the pairing of sports betting and online poker/gaming is extremely state dependent.

Online sports betting is a must

First and foremost, online sports betting needs to be a component of the legislation. Without it, adding online poker or casino will be a difficult to impossible lift.

Land-based sports betting more closely resembles land-based casinos than any online gambling format. Land-based sports betting and a product like online poker are also dissimilar enough from a regulatory standpoint that they can easily be severed.

On the other hand, any state willing to legalize online sports betting is going to have to face the question of online casino and poker. These formats use similar technology (often provided by the same company) and require near-identical legislation and regulation.

Furthermore, unlike daily fantasy sports, platforms for online casino, poker and sports betting would all be run by the same land-based gaming interests.

Two other factors to consider

In addition to contemplating online sports betting, a state will likely need to tick off one, or both of the following boxes to link online poker/casino to a sports betting bill:

  • A state in a financial crunch that is badly in need of every penny of revenue it can find.
  • A state that doesn’t have enough votes to pass sports betting or online gambling singularly.

Pennsylvania provides the perfect example of both of these things at work.

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The Pennsylvania model

Pennsylvania managed to pass an omnibus gaming reform/expansion package in 2017 by:

  • Linking the gaming reforms to the funding of the state budget, which had a massive shortfall and few options outside of gaming to fund it.
  • Combining gaming reforms to create a bill where the sum was greater than the parts.

It was a perfect storm for Pennsylvania. The budget shortfall provided the urgency, while the multiple parts provided the bargaining chips to gather enough support to get the measure passed.

Most of the components of the gaming bill Pennsylvania passed were unlikely to pass on their own (a few were widely popular and likely included to increase support), but collectively the different components of the bill — including online gaming, online lottery, sports betting, DFS and land-based expansion — were able to appeal to enough lawmakers to get the bill passed.

The bottom line

States that shy away from online sports betting are unlikely to merge sports and online poker/casino together, but in the states where online sports betting is on the table, online poker and casino games will almost certainly be discussed.

There will also undoubtedly be states where a group of lawmakers want to legalize sports betting, and a separate group want to legalize online gaming. The two groups likely have a lot of overlap, but the overlap is far from 100 percent.

That provides an opportunity to bring together some strange bedfellows, as there may be enough pro-sports/anti-poker and pro-poker/anti-sports legislators willing to engage in a quid pro quo in order to get what they want.

- 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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