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Online Poker Report

Amid Sports Betting Offensive, Online Gambling Expansion Flies Under The Radar

online gambling bills

With everyone’s attention gravitating toward the trendy topic of sports betting, online gambling legislation is making significant progress in several states.

West Virginia about to seal the deal

West Virginia is on the precipice of legalizing online poker and casino games after a bill weaved its way through the House and Senate. The Mountain State is just a Gov. Jim Justice signature away from becoming the fifth with legalized online gambling.

But as we learned last year, it’s not official until it’s official.

An effort to legalize online gambling in Michigan was thwarted by the veto pen of former Gov. Rick Snyder in December.

A Michigan mulligan

The good news is the Wolverine State is taking another bite at the apple in 2019. With a new administration in the governor’s mansion, there’s a sense that Michigan can seal the deal this time around.

Rep. Brandt Iden and Sen. Curtis Hertel introduced companion online gambling legislation in their respective chambers last week. Iden, who spearheaded the efforts last year, has already scheduled a hearing on Tuesday.

Online gambling’s slow march

The progress in West Virginia and Michigan bodes well for online gambling efforts in other states, as well as the US online gambling market as a whole.

The revised Wire Act opinion has engulfed the industry in a fog of uncertainty. And online gambling could certainly use a shot in the arm.

The online gambling landscape

The current online gambling states — New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada — constitute just four percent of the US population.

When Pennsylvania comes online this summer, the percentage of Americans living in an online gambling state will double to eight.

Michigan and West Virginia joining the ranks might constitute a tipping point that not only increases the scale of online gambling in the US, but possibly spurs other states into action.

West Virginia small but significant

West Virginia’s population of 1.8 million residents isn’t going to move the needle in terms of total population in online gambling states. As the fifth state, though, it will have the distinction of growing the US online gambling market to include 10 percent of the country.

Michigan more meaningful

With 10 million residents, Michigan would have a larger overall impact, increasing the percentage of the US population with access to legal online gambling to 11 percent.

Additionally, it would be the first Midwestern state with online gambling.

That could cause its neighbors like Illinois, Ohio, or Indiana to adopt a “keep-up-with-the-Joneses” mentality. That attitude is prevalent in the east, where a contiguous line of online gambling states connects West Virginia to Delaware.

The best-case scenario includes MI, WV

If both Michigan and West Virginia roll out online gambling, 12 percent of states and 12 percent of the US population will have access to legal online casino and poker games.

A tipping point, indeed.

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Online gambling legislation (finally) trending positive

If the West Virginia and Michigan dominoes fall, expect the topic of online gambling in the US to do an about-face.

Since 2013, online gambling legislation can best be described as frustrating. Plenty of states have discussed online gambling, and a few have even seen bills progress through the legislature. But prior to West Virginia, only two online gambling bills had passed through a state legislature in the previous five years — Pennsylvania in 2017 and Michigan in 2018.

Neither had an easy path, and both squeaked through in the 11th hour. And as noted, the governor in one of those states vetoed the bill that came before him.

Fortunately, West Virginia’s legislation and efforts in Michigan and beyond have online gambling legislation trending in the opposite direction.

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.
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