Offshore sportsbooks and casinos continue to flourish around the US

Bovada Returns To New York, Or Why A ‘Ban’ On Online Casino And Sports Betting Means Nothing

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Offshore gambling operator Bovada is back in New York, offering its online casino options like sports betting and slots to residents of the state.

Sound strange to you? You’re not alone. Offering online casino games in the state is illegal, as is sports betting of any type, whether land-based or online.

The moral of the story: A state that says online gambling is illegal isn’t really banning it in any sort meaningful way.

Illegal online gambling, in NY

It’s not clear why Bovada is coming back to New York after not serving the state’s players for some time.

But according to some of Bovada’s marketing partners, it has “once again started accepting players located in the New York State.” This is not because of any legal change in New York; Bovada is certainly not operating legally in the state (or anywhere else in the US, for that matter).

Perhaps Bovada became less afraid of legal action because of operating in the state, for some reason; after all, a number of other online casinos and sportsbooks already served NY. Maybe it just found a way to facilitate payments for New York players.

Regardless, Bovada is masterful at making people think it’s a legal sportsbook. A week doesn’t go by that a media outlet in the US doesn’t cite a Bovada sports betting line, despite the fact that there are multiple legal options now in the US. Its use of a “.lv” domain also tricks a lot of people into thinking Bovada is based in Las Vegas (it’s not).

So much for that ban on online sports betting and casino

Here’s the lesson for New York, and indeed any other state in the union. Your “bans” on sports betting or online gambling are ridiculously ineffective.

There was a US crackdown online gambling in 2011 — better known to gamblers as “Black Friday” for online poker. That stopped some of the biggest online poker operators from serving Americans. But in the years since, a number of other bookmakers and casinos — many of which already existed — filled the vacuum and operate with abandon in most of the country.

States are likely going to have a tough time stopping existing forms of online gambling without some sort of federal intervention, like took place earlier this decade. New Jersey, which has online gambling (and now sports betting), was effective in pushing back against some offshore operators. But that action, while it worked, was akin to a flea biting a large animal: a nuisance but hardly the end of the world.

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What states should be doing

In the meantime, states like New York are wringing their hands about if and how to legalize forms of online sports betting and gambling. NY has been considering online poker legislation for years, without enacting a law. While land-based sports betting is technically legal in the state, no steps have been taken to let it happen. And authorization of online wagering would still need to happen in 2019 (or later).

So, states like New York can stick their heads in the sand and continue to kick the can down the road on sports betting, online poker, etc.. Or they can be progressive like Pennsylvania, where the PA online casino industry will launch soon. (The first land-based sportsbook also launched in the state.)

Bovada and other offshore sportsbooks and online casinos will continue to serve New York and other states into perpetuity. States can continue to watch them have the market to themselves, or they can get off the bench and start competing with them with legal and regulated options.

From where I sit, it seems like it should be an easy choice.

- Dustin Gouker has been a sports journalist for more than 15 years, working as a reporter, editor and designer -- including stops at The Washington Post and the D.C. Examiner. He has played poker recreationally for his entire adult life and has written about poker since 2008.
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