But now one group is laying the foundation for a different approach to Internet gambling regulation.
That group is The National Council of Legislators From Gaming States (NCLGS), who recently announced an initiative to develop a unified policy framework for regulating online gambling – a framework that could become a template for states interested in bringing Internet gambling to their populations.
OPR interviewed Florida Representative and NCLGS President Jim Waldman to get more information about his organization’s drive to bring cohesion to online gambling regulation in the United States.
Waldman cited the DoJ’s Wire Act reversal as a tipping point for U.S. online gambling regulation – the point at which states took the lead from the federal government on the issue.
Because of that decision, Waldman argued, “more states are looking into online gambling.” And cooperation between states “is necessary to develop economies of scale, protect consumers, and establish uniform guidelines and procedures, while avoiding unnecessary federal intervention.”
Waldman sees a two-fold role for NCLGS in fostering that cooperation: first, creating some uniform standards to “guide the discussion,” and second, providing a “neutral” forum where state officials can conduct that discussion relatively free of political constraint.
Not all states will want to approach online gambling in an identical fashion, and nor should they – each will have unique goals and concerns specific to their particular state.
But that fact does not eliminate the need for uniform standards and guidelines on a variety of issues related to online gambling regulation. Waldman listed “player protection, problem gambling measures, license controls and advertising restrictions” as just a few of the areas where uniformity could yield benefits both for state lawmakers and for consumers.
That sort of uniformity also acts as a bulwark against federal intervention into online gambling, an area where Waldman simply doesn’t see any role for the federal government. “What it really comes down to is that it ought to be state’s rights,” Waldman told me.
And, while Waldman didn’t directly address it, there’s another advantage to the policy framework NCLGS is proposing: it effectively does much of the heavy legislative lifting for lawmakers interested in legalizing online gambling by providing a credible blueprint for a bill.
As for the roadmap to this framework, Waldman made it clear that NCLGS had already set the wheels in motion.
“We’re looking at requests for public comment in December,” Waldman revealed. The comment process, he explained, will continue through the NCLGS Winter Meeting in January 2014, culminating in a review and construction of a draft of policy standards later that spring.
That will set the stage for a draft review at the NCLGS Summer Meeting in June 2014, followed by an official release of the framework either at that point or in the subsequent NCLGS Winter Meeting.
While the flurry of recent developments out of New Jersey can create the sense of substantial momentum for regulated American online gambling, the fact remains that less than 5% of the U.S. population will have access to regulated iGaming even after NJ goes live.
And Waldman doesn’t see the iGaming floodgates opening in the wake of New Jersey’s launch.
“I think what you’ll see is a gradual rollout – but I think you’ll see the states watching very carefully what happens,” said Waldman.
“I don’t expect that you’ll see all of a sudden that every state will do it,” he continued. “Every state legislature is very different, and no one wants to be the one who risks any sort of negative results for their state.”
Waldman offered his home state of Florida as an example of the slow road ahead for regulation, saying that “in spite of the fact that we are looking at [land-based gambling] expansion very seriously, it will be a while before we do something” with online gambling.
Waldman described the NCLGS as a “non-partisan, educational organization” that doesn’t take a specific position on gambling, but rather sees gambling as an issue that “states are best suited to handle.”