Sports betting has been legalized in a handful of states in 2018, and the District of Columbia is working on its own bill in the 11th hour.
Overall, though, the year has mostly been a dud for online gambling expansion. Michigan is still flirting with legalization, but the calendar isn’t promising for online gambling in the Wolverine State this year.
As we’ve said many times in the past, there’s always next year.
With states ramping up toward 2019 legislative sessions, gambling is expected to be one of the hotter topics. Much of the appetite stems from the May 2018 Supreme Court decision that paved the way for legalized sports betting in the US.
Sports betting will consume most of the oxygen in 2019, but online poker and casinos will remain on some states’ agendas — just as they have for several years.
We got a little carried away after Pennsylvania passed a bill in 2017 and optimistically named 15 candidate states, albeit using the word “candidate” as judiciously as possible. While the topic did surface in at least a half dozen of those, not a single one passed online gambling legislation in 2018.
This year, the list of candidates we’ve compiled is more focused, as we try to separate the contenders from the pretenders.
Once again, you can expect to see online gambling bills pop up all over the country in 2019. Legislation has previously been introduced in some of the most-populous US states, and several of those are likely to take another swing at online casino and/or poker.
Furthermore, with sports betting (and online sports betting) a likely topic of discussion in dozens of others, there’s a good chance online gambling will be thrown into the mix in some new locales.
At this time, though, only a handful of states can be considered decent contenders. That statement is loosely bounded by the caveat that we’ve seen states come out of nowhere and introduce legislation in the past.
In no particular order, here are the five top candidates for online gambling in 2019:
OPR will take a deeper dive into each of these states in future articles. Use this momentum tracker to keep up with the conversation.
In the meantime, here is a general barometer of where each state stands going into 2019.
When Connecticut jumped into the sports betting conversation in the summer of 2018, the state’s two gaming tribes backed the idea. They also endorsed the legalization of online gambling. That lead to some discussions about an omnibus approach to expansion.
At the end of the day, though, the state decided to punt the issue into 2019.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the two issues will remain entangled. Back-channel chatter indicates the two will be decoupled going forward. It’s sports betting that has the momentum, despite the tribes telling the state that online gambling presents the better opportunity for all involved.
With both tribes on board, however, the two issues may still coalesce if sports betting legislation runs into any hurdles.
Illinois has taken a stab at legalizing daily fantasy sports (DFS) and online gambling for several years running. Lawmakers have made some recent inroads by combining the two, along with sports betting in 2018.
But these efforts ultimately fell short each time.
Sports betting headwinds should drive the conversation forward in 2019, provided the state keeps online gambling and DFS tied to legislation. If so, Illinois would be a solid candidate in 2019.
Earlier this year, the Michigan House passed an online gambling and sports betting bill. If the Michigan Senate does the same during the upcoming lame-duck session, the rest of this section will be moot.
The likeness is not only due to its fondness of introducing but never passing legislation, but also the tribal-commercial casino dynamics that create a key sticking point. And like their counterparts in California, lawmakers in Michigan may be growing weary over the lack of compromise to date.
There are also several other complicating factors that Michigan will need to address heading into 2019:
New York’s inability to pass an online poker bill has been vexing.
Legislation has breezed through the NY Senate on multiple occasions, only to run into an invisible brick wall in the lower chamber. Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, the key lawmaker on gaming issues, has offered a carousel of excuses to explain the Assembly’s inaction.
With the state poised to take on sports betting in 2019, online poker will almost certainly get another look. Just don’t expect the two issues to commingle. That’s something Pretlow is not a fan of doing; he prefers clean bills.
And like Michigan, New York is losing an online poker champion, Sen. John Bonacic, to retirement.
When someone mentions West Virginia, the words “progressive on online gambling” don’t immediately come to mind. However, it is actually one of the more progressive states on this front. It was the first to legalize sports betting in 2018, remember, now poised to take its industry online in the near future.
Furthermore, West Virginia has taken a look at online lottery and online gaming in the past, including a relevant bill in both 2017 and 2018.
With the state continually looking for new streams of revenue and job creation, and with its casinos facing stiff competition from neighboring states, online gambling could be a good fit. As it has been to date, a fairly conservative legislature will continue to be the primary hangup.
The reticence to “expand” gambling could change, however, if lawmakers get a taste of online sports betting’s consumer protections and revenue.