2022 predictions: Michigan interstate poker, new live dealer casinos, a FanDuel IPO and more

Seven Reasons To Be Optimistic About US Online Gambling In 2022

The last couple of years have been challenging, to put it mildly. There’s almost no one on the planet who is, at any point in their lives, going to think back fondly on 2020 and 2021 and pine for “the good old days.”

There are silver linings, to be sure. In this line of work, we can for instance point to soaring online gambling revenues, and a pretty good rebound for the gambling sector generally after the dark days of spring 2020. Any time of crisis brings opportunities as well, but that doesn’t diminish how unpleasant it is to live through.

That doesn’t mean that we can’t be optimistic about the future. We’re all hoping that brighter days lie ahead, and in that spirit, here are seven positive stories that are likely to appear in our headlines over the next 365 days. We’ll even start with the best of them and work our way down the list.

#1 – Interstate poker expansion

At Online Poker Report, there’s no question our readers ask more frequently than when interstate poker is going to start for Michigan and Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, it’s also a question we have a hard time answering.

Traffic sharing is extremely important for poker. It means more tables, a greater variety of games and bigger prize pools for tournaments. The near-total lack of it is one of the biggest issues facing regulated US online poker today. Only one site – WSOP – can currently share traffic and its network comprises only the three smallest online poker states – NJ, NV and DE.

PokerStars and BetMGM Poker would love to create their own interstate poker networks, but because they don’t operate in Nevada or Delaware, they have nowhere they can link up with their New Jersey sites.

The good news is that Michigan should be linking up with the existing three-state compact very soon. The Michigan Gaming Control Board said early in 2021 that it expected this to happen by the end of the year. That obviously hasn’t been the case, and the regulator hasn’t given an updated timeline However, the problem seems to be merely bureaucratic sluggishness. Hopefully the delay won’t be more than a few months.

Pennsylvania has been even vaguer about its plans. It was initially hesitant due to uncertainty about whether the Wire Act would make this a legal impossibility. However, that case is all but over, and IGT’s petition for declaratory relief should seal the deal. It’s too early to make predictions about Pennsylvania joining the compact in 2022, but the possibility is on the table.

#2 – Ontario online gambling privatization

We don’t expect any new US state markets to open up for online casino or poker in 2022. North of the border, however, Canada is about to get its first privatized iGaming market in Ontario.

This won’t be exactly the sort of private market we see in the US. Canadian federal law forbids private companies from conducting gambling on their own. Rather, companies will be signing operating agreements with the government, while an agency called iGaming Ontario “conducts and manages” the business.

Even so, it appears that many of the same major brands operating in the US will become available to Ontarians. Examples include DraftKings, FanDuel and Caesars, as well as domestic brands like theScore and Torstar.

It might not be all smooth sailing. The province’s Auditor General is of the opinion that Ontario’s plan doesn’t quite meet the requirements of federal law and might lose a legal challenge. The Auditor General can’t directly bring such a challenge, however, and the Attorney General believes the plan is adequate. Even if there is a successful challenge, it may simply mean the province needs to tweak iGaming Ontario’s powers and responsibilities, rather than bringing the whole thing to a halt.

#3 – FanDuel spin-off

Consolidation has been the name of the game for the US online gambling industry since it started taking off a few years ago. Rarely a month goes by that we don’t hear about some major acquisition taking place.

That poses a little bit of a problem for market speculators, however. Having a large number of formerly independent companies conglomerated under a single ticker symbol means less ability to target one’s investments. For that reason, there’s a lot of excitement about the idea that Flutter might spin off FanDuel Group as a separate entity.

After all, FanDuel is the US market leader in sports betting and a strong contender in iGaming. Yet, you can’t buy into FanDuel at the moment without also investing in Paddy Power, Betfair, Sky Betting and Gaming, PokerStars, and a number of other brands all unified until Flutter.

The FanDuel IPO was originally supposed to happen this year, but got postponed for a few reasons. However, there’s a good chance that would-be FanDuel investors will get their chance in the coming year.

#4 – More live dealer options in the US

Live dealer online casino games have been available in the US since 2016. However, there’s really only one company offering them. Evolution Gaming has the only active studios in Michigan and Pennsylvania. In New Jersey, it was the second to arrive after Ezugi, but it acquired that rival almost immediately upon planting its flag in the US.

2022 will almost certainly be the year that US players find themselves with more options in that department. For one thing, Playtech already has a studio under construction in Southfield, Michigan. There’s no official opening date yet, but it’s hard to imagine it taking much longer.

Additional competition should follow from Scientific Games. It sold off its lottery and sports betting arms this year in order to focus on the casino vertical. Its first acquisition after doing so was Authentic Gaming, a company whose primary focus is live dealer games. Scientific Games made no secret of the fact that its intentions with that acquisition were to aim at the US market.

#5 – New Jersey gambling treatment diversion courts

2021 saw the introduction of bills in the New Jersey legislature to try to create specialty courts for crimes driven by gambling addiction. Like drug courts, the purpose of these courts would be to offer addicts a chance for supervised rehabilitation rather than incarceration.

A similar court has been operating in Nevada for three years now, with great success albeit on a small scale. That court’s first judge, the now-retired Cheryl Moss, is a key figure in the push to repeat the project in New Jersey and eventually other states.

Incarceration is a particularly bad solution for those who committed crimes to fuel their gambling addictions. Gambling for snacks and other luxuries is a popular pastime in jails and prisons, and the psychological help offered to convicts is minimal. As a result, gambling addicts often come out worse than they went in. To establish more courts like the one in Nevada would be a great leap forward for responsible gambling in the US. Here at Online Poker Report, we’re very hopeful that we’ll see some movement on that initiative in the coming year.

#6 – A new future for the WSOP

The World Series of Poker returned from its pandemic-related hiatus this year, but things weren’t quite the same. The series had to take place in the fall, and attendance was way down.

Next year, the series should be back to its normal time slot in the middle of summer. It will also have a new home at Bally’s and Paris, rather than the Rio, where it has been since 2004. Depending on how the pandemic is progressing and what restrictions remain on international travel, it stands to be a huge year.

It’s also an open question what the company plans to do with the online component of the series. Prior to the pandemic, there was a growing number of online bracelet events that were part of the main series schedule. During these two pandemic years, WSOP created a separate Online Bracelet Series, which has been a spectacular success. It also ran additional online events concurrently with the main series this fall. However, it kept them separate from the live tournament schedule.

With all these changes to the series, it will be an exciting year either way, whether its organizers decide to reunite the online and live components or keep them separate.

#7 – Legislative sessions resume

Unfortunately, there’s one bit of bad news that has to be included here. That’s why I’ve buried it at the bottom. The issue is that there’s no state we can point to as a strong favorite to legalize online gambling in 2022.

One year ago, when laying out my predictions for 2021, the obvious picks were Connecticut and Illinois. Connecticut got there, and even launched its market within the year. However, the Illinois Internet Gaming Act stalled. Because Illinois has two-year sessions, the bill will still be active in 2022, so we’ll definitely see the conversation continue. Unfortunately, its Senate sponsor, Sen. Cristina Castro, has said she doesn’t expect it to pass right away, but rather to get the ball rolling for another push in 2023.

That said, while there’s no individual state that’s likely to pass a bill in the coming year, there will almost certainly be several bills up for discussion.

Who to watch for online gambling legislation in 2022

  • Maryland probably has the best shot. It successfully legalized sports betting in 2020 and its lawmakers thought about pushing for iGaming in 2021 before deciding they had other more urgent priorities. We can probably expect a bill in 2022, but it’s hard to predict its chances.
  • Indiana and Missouri both had iGaming bills fail in 2021. The proponents of online gambling in those states are likely to try again in 2022.
  • Kentucky has been trying for sports betting plus online poker for a while now, and that Sisyphean effort might resume, since it has an easier shot in budget years.
  • Ohio ticks a lot of boxes for a state likely to expand its gambling options, but has yet to get the ball rolling. It’s one to keep an eye on, but hard to predict.
  • Nevada has already legalized iGaming, but its regulators have only authorized online poker. It planned a public workshop this year to look at the possibility of adding online casinos, but that never happened. We might see another attempt in 2022.

There’s never a dull moment in this industry. While I wouldn’t bet on any of those states at even money, we’ve been surprised before. It may be all dark horses in the race at the moment, but there are a lot of them. Who knows which one might break away from the pack once legislative sessions resume?

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