Seven states consider new policies on gambling
Online Poker Report

America Votes 2020: Your Guide To Gambling-Related Ballot Questions And Their Impact For Online Poker And Casinos

Voters in seven states will be asked to decide gambling-related questions.

This is it. The day Americans and, indeed, the whole world have been waiting for with some mixture of anticipation, hope, anxiety or abject terror: the 2020 federal election.

Naturally, what everyone’s most concerned about is which parties will control the House of Representatives and Senate, and which presidential candidate will take the White House.

What about US online gambling, though? There too, the outcome for the House, Senate and Presidential races is likely to be the most relevant.

And yet, seven states do have gambling-related ballot measures.

Which states have gambling questions on the ballot?

Here is the full list:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Nebraska
  • South Dakota
  • Virginia

The total would likely be much higher had the COVID-19 pandemic not derailed most political processes and pushed gambling to the bottom of the priority list.

None of these directly relate to legal online poker or iGaming. That said, two authorize sports betting in some form, with the potential to include mobile betting. The others have more indirect implications, but are still worth keeping an eye on, especially if one of these happens to be your home state.

What follows here is a summary of each of the seven. You’ll find the exact ballot text, a summary of what’s at stake, and our assessment of the odds of success and what implications it could have for online gambling.

Update (11/4): Results came in quickly for all states save California. Colorado, Maryland, Nebraska and South Dakota all approved their measures, as did all four Virginia municipalities. A majority of Louisiana parishes said yes to sports betting, but the exact number isn’t known yet.

Update (11/10): California also voted yes on Measure H, making it a clean sweep for gambling questions in 2020.

Maryland: All eyes on the Old Line State

Ballot Test (Question 2): Do you approve the expansion of commercial gaming in the State of Maryland to authorize sports and events betting for the primary purpose of raising revenue for education?

Odds of Success: Good
Impact on Online Gambling: High

Probably the most important ballot measure from the point of view on online gambling is in Maryland. It is one of those states in which any gambling expansion requires a referendum. This provision was added in 2007 as a compromise in order to pass a casino bill.

The will definitely exists in Maryland to pass a sports betting bill. Furthermore, the daily fantasy sports companies DraftKings and FanDuel have been pushing hard in support of Question 2.

Unfortunately, due to the distraction of COVID-19, the bill which put the question on the ballot was light on specifics. Assuming there is a Yes vote, a new bill will be required next year to set out where, how and by whom sports betting can be offered.

Equally important is another question that didn’t make the ballot. A second bill was in the legislature when the pandemic hit, which would asked voters to remove the 2007 constitutional requirement. This suggests that the plan was to pass additional forms of gambling, such as online casinos, in future years.

Unfortunately, not having that question on the ballot means any such effort will have to wait until 2022 at the earliest. However, a Yes vote for sports betting now makes it very likely that online casinos and poker will at least be brought to a vote at that time.

Outcome

Success! Maryland passed Question 2 by a substantial margin, 66.2% to 33.8%. Not only will the Old Line State get sports betting, but such overwhelming support will likely encourage legislators to try for further expansion in 2022.

Louisiana: Paving the way for sports betting

Ballot Text (Parish Measures): Shall sports wagering activities and operations be permitted in the parish of [parish name]?

Odds of Success: Good for most parishes
Impact on Online Gambling: Moderate

Louisiana passed Senate Bill 130 this year to add a question to the ballot asking the state’s 64 individual parishes whether or not they would like to authorize sports betting.

This is the same path the state took in 2018 with daily fantasy sports (DFS). 47 of 64 parishes said yes to that, but two years later, sports fans and gamblers in the state are still waiting for legal DFS to launch.

One would expect sports betting to do similarly well, yet also to take a while to get of the ground. We would still need to see a bill next year laying out the specifics, and then the usual regulatory and licensing process.

The question also fails to specify whether sports betting would be online and statewide. It could instead end up limited to retail locations within the parishes voting yes. Exactly which path lawmakers choose probably depends on how many parishes vote Yes, and would impact the likelihood of other forms of online gambling down the road.

Outcome

Partial success, still counting. Louisiana hasn’t yet announced exactly how many counties voted Yes, but it looks like it will be more than approved DFS. Importantly, parishes covering the cities of Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Layfayette all voted for sports betting. This widespread support makes the possibility of statewide online sports betting much more likely, though it’s possible that geolocation technology could be used to exclude players in the parishes which voted No.

Virginia: Four towns, four casinos, four votes

Ballot Text (Local Gaming Measures): Shall casino gaming be permitted at a casino gaming establishment in the City of [name] as may be approved by the Virginia Lottery Board?

Odds of Success: Very good
Impact on Online Gambling:
Moderate

Virginia has no true casino gambling at the moment, only a facsimile thereof in the form of historical horse racing. A bill passed this year creates the opportunity to change that.

Five towns were given permission to put casino construction on the ballot, provided they could find a suitable commercial partner. Four did so: Bristol, Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth. Richmond is the fifth, but will have to wait for another year, as it failed to strike a deal in time.

Establishing a land-based casino industry in the state is a great first step towards expanding into the online space. All states to have legalized online casino gambling so far have done so in partnership with the brick and mortar sector.

That said, we probably don’t have to hold our breath for this vote. It’s likely that all four towns will vote Yes, but even one should be sufficient. Whether there are one, two, three, four or eventually five casinos would impact the nature of a hypothetical Virginia online gambling market, but perhaps not as much its likelihood of coming to pass.

Outcome

Total success! All four cities voted Yes to their proposed casinos, and margins of 2-1 or more. It will take some time to plan and build the casinos, and Virginia won’t likely see any new forms of gambling in the interim. However, it would not be surprising if state lawmakers took the time to pass a sports betting bill, such that the casinos can open with sportsbooks already in place.

Colorado: Raising the stakes

Ballot Text (Amendment 77/Initiative 257): Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution and a change to the Colorado Revised Statutes concerning voter-approved changes to limited gaming, and, in connection therewith, allowing the voters of Central City, Black Hawk, and Cripple Creek, for their individual cities, to approve other games in addition to those currently allowed and increase a maximum single bet to any amount; and allowing gaming tax revenue to be used for support services to improve student retention and credential completion by students enrolled in community colleges?

Odds of Success: Fair
Impact on Online Gambling: Small

Colorado is one of only two states with legal casino gambling which places a hard limit on the size of wagers. It’s quite a low limit, too, just $100, compared to $1000 in South Dakota.

Amendment 77 would remove the statewide restriction, while leaving the $100 maximum in place for the time being for each of the three casino towns. Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek would then each have the ability to set their own limit. It would also allow them to authorize new types of games.

The limit doesn’t apply to Colorado sports betting however, and this is currently the only form of online gambling legal in the state. As far as impact on online gambling goes, Amendment 77 is only relevant as a measure of the Colorado public’s risk tolerance for gambling expansion.

Outcome

Success! Amendment 77 passed with just shy of 60% of the vote. Exactly what this means for Colorado casinos now depends on what the three cities decide to do with their newfound powers.

South Dakota: Sports betting in Deadwood

Ballot Text (Constitutional Amendment B): The constitution currently authorizes the Legislature to allow certain types of gaming in the City of Deadwood: roulette, keno, craps, limited card games, and slot machines. The constitution amendment authorizes the Legislature to also include wagering on sporting events as a type of gaming allowed in Deadwood. Under federal law, any gaming authorized by the Legislature to be offered in Deadwood would also be allowed at on-reservation casinos upon amendments to current tribal gaming compacts.

Odds of Success: Good
Impact on Online Gambling: Small

South Dakota is very conservative overall, but has managed to juggle the gambling issue by keeping it confined to the town of Deadwood and tribal lands.

The proposed Constitutional Amendment B would take the same tack with the new issue of sports betting. It would simply add a few words to the section of the constitution detailing what types of gaming are allowed in Deadwood to make sports betting possible that way.

This path stands a much better chance of success than an effort to pass an online sports betting bill directly. It would also open the door for the state’s tribal casinos to enter compact negotiations to open their own sportsbooks.

Win or lose, though, it’s likely to be the only attempt at gambling expansion until the next federal election. So, while it may eventually open the door to online sports betting, the reality is that is probably still a long way off.

Outcome

Success! South Dakota voters said Yes to sports betting by a margin of 58.5% to 41.5%. Though it will only be offered in Deadwood, four of six neighboring states have no sports betting at all, so it should be good for cross-border tourism, especially once the pandemic is over.

Nebraska: Casino gaming at racetracks

Ballot Text (Initiative 429): Shall the Nebraska Constitution be amended to state that laws may be enacted to allow for the licensing, authorization, taxation and regulation of all forms of games of chance to be conducted by authorized gaming operators within licensed racetrack enclosures in Nebraska? 

Odds of Success: Uncertain
Impact on Online Gambling: Very small

Nebraska’s ballot actually has three linked initiatives related to casino gaming: Initiatives 429, 430 and 431. The first makes it possible. The second establishes the necessary regulatory body. Finally, Initiative 431 sets the tax rate at 20%.

If approved, the measures would allow the state’s racetracks to offer Class III casino gaming. The plan has the support of both the state’s horsemen and Native American tribes. The horsemen say the state is struggling to attract visitors with horse racing alone, and feel on-site casinos would help.

Meanwhile, US law allows tribes to offer any sort of gaming that is commercially legal in the state. Thus, casino gaming at the racetracks would automatically allow them to upgrade their Class II establishments to full Class III casinos.

However, several social conservative groups are fighting the plan, and Nebraska voters have a history of rejecting ballot measures. Even if the measure passes, Nebraska would be a huge underdog to legalize any sort of online gambling. That won’t change for the foreseeable future.

Outcome

Success! Despite conservative opposition, Nebraska voters said Yes to casino gaming by a margin of 65% to 35%. The next step for the state’s tribes will be to negotiate compacts to set out the terms on which they can offer Class III gaming at their own establishments.

California: San Jose looks to expand card rooms

Ballot Text (Measure H): To fund general San José services, including fire protection, disaster preparedness, 911 emergency response, street repair, youth programs, addressing homelessness, and supporting vulnerable residents, shall an ordinance be adopted increasing the cardroom tax rate from 15% to 16.5%, applying the tax to third party providers at these rates: up to $25,000,000 at 5%; $25,000,001 to $30,000,000 at 7.5%; and over $30,000,000 at 10%, increasing card tables by 30, generating approximately $15,000,000 annually, until repealed?

Odds of Success: Very Good
Impact on Online Gambling: Nonexistent

California’s ballot measure is only of very local interest. Specifically, it concerns cardrooms in San José.

The measure effectively doubles down on a similar measure which passed in 2010. It further hikes the tax rate on the city’s two cardrooms. It simultaneously increases the number of tables they’re permitted to run.

Prior to 2010, the rules were a 13% tax and 40 tables per establishment. That year, they were changed to 15% tax and 49 tables. If Measure H passes, this will become 16.5% tax and 64 tables.

Outcome

Success. San José voters said yes to more tables and higher taxes at their cardrooms.

Alex Weldon
- Alex is a journalist from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. Now site runner for OnlinePokerReport, he has been writing about poker and the online gambling industry in various capacities since 2014.
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