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The US online gambling industry is dynamic and rapidly expanding. Most new forms of gambling require new legislation at the state level.
Now that we’re into a new year, that means new legislative sessions are starting. Illinois still has an online casino bill on the table from last year. However, most states will be starting afresh.
New laws come up for consideration several times a year. Some pass, some fail, and others stall in one year but reappear in the following legislative session. We’re here to keep you up to speed on what’s happening in legislative assemblies around the country.
Last updated: January 14, 2022
Part of the reason the industry is changing so quickly is that legal online gambling in the US is a very new concept. Prior to the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006, the US was essentially a gray market. Afterward, five years of black market activity followed (mostly from online poker sites), prior to the 2011 crackdown known as Black Friday.
It was only at that point that efforts to legalize online gambling began, with New Jersey being the first to launch a full-featured online gambling market. Nevada and Delaware followed suit in a more limited fashion. However, it wasn’t until the repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Betting Act (PASPA) in 2018 that the online gambling effort gained steam in other states. The list now includes Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Michigan, as well.
This state-by-state process is the other reason for the complexity of the US market. Aside from partial prohibitions – like the UIGEA, PASPA and the Wire Act – the federal government has little to say about gambling, leaving it to the states to decide. The result is that the picture is very different in one part of the country or another. Even states which offer the same array of products have their own policies and quirks, different tax rates and licensing structures, etc.
The decision by a state to legalize or not is therefore not just a “yes” or “no” question. Rather, it entails a lengthy discussion about how gambling will be conducted in the state, and who will have access to the market and on what terms.
This year represents a fresh start for US legislatures. Although online gambling expansion is a hot topic, many efforts to legalize it fell by the wayside in 2020-2021 due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Connecticut was the only state to legalize iGaming in 2021, and it managed to launch just a few months later. Michigan also launched its market in Jan 2021, but the bill enabling that had passed over a year earlier, in Dec 2019.
Although the pandemic is ongoing, it is neither as intense nor as unfamiliar as it was before. At the same time, the loss of tax revenue from retail gaming over the past two years has highlighted for many states the advantages of having a regulated online market.
Many states have single-year legislative sessions, so will need to introduce new bills if they want online gambling to be on the table. However, Illinois is entering the second year of its two-year session, so the 2021 Internet Gaming Act is still active and will surely get some attention.
Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri and North Dakota also considered legislation in 2021 and may do so again in 2022. None of them would be considered a favorite to pass a bill, however. Instead, the best chances may come from other states that were absent from the conversation last year, such as Iowa, Ohio or even New York.
States with active bills are shown here. Mouse over a state for more info on the current status of the legislation.
Note: Not all bills shown on this map necessarily involve the legalization of online casinos. For instance, this year’s bill in Connecticut concerns the sharing of online casino revenue between the tribes and state, while Massachusetts is considering an online lottery.
It is still early in the year, and most legislative sessions have either just started, or haven’t started yet. As such, the only active bills, for the time being, are the Illinois Internet Gaming Act and Indiana House Bills 1337 and 1356. However, other bills should start appearing soon. See the section on States to watch, below.
We’ve given every state here a momentum rating. These represent our mostly-subjective assessment of the state’s chances to pass the current bills under consideration, or something substantially similar, within the current legislative session. The ratings are as follows:
Here are all the contenders for who will be the next new state to legalize online casino:
Illinois online casinos and Illinois online poker should be coming sooner or later. The political will and public desire are both present. However, the desire of local casino companies to keep online-only operators out of their market has been a constant thorn in the state’s side.
Last year’s HB 3142, aka the Internet Gaming Act, looked very promising. It was, for the most part, a well-written and sensible bill, and even contained special provisions to get iGaming off the ground very quickly due to its importance during the pandemic. It was joined by a companion bill in the Senate, SB 2064, so that progress could be made in both branches of the legislature concurrently.
Unfortunately, the House Bill ended up stalling in the Rules Committee, while the Senate bill found itself similarly stuck in Assignments. There has not been any movement on either bill since April last year.
Fortunately, Illinois has two-year legislative sessions, so both bills remain active in 2022 and should come up for discussion. As written, the bills would instruct state regulators to enact emergency rules within 90 days, and issue temporary licenses within 30 days of application to any entity currently holding a sports betting license. Hypothetically, then, Illinois could not only legalize but also launch online casinos and poker within 2022.
The bad news is that Sen. Cristina Castro, who sponsored the Senate bill, says she doesn’t hold out a lot of hope for the effort this year. She feels there’s still a lot of “education” needed among her fellow lawmakers, but thinks that laying groundwork this year and next will lead to a bill passing in 2023.
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Indiana is back at it again with a pair of House bills from Reps. Alan Morrison and Doug Gutwein, both Republicans. The bills are almost identical, save for the technical details of how revenue will be shared with the communities where the online casinos’ land-based partners are located. Either bill would award online gambling privileges to the state’s racetracks and riverboat casinos, and tax it at 18%.
Last year’s effort for online gambling was also fairly straightforward, but never made it beyond the very early stages. Sen. Jon Ford revealed a draft bill in late 2020, then formally introduced S 417 in the first weeks of 2021. Unlike earlier online casino bills in the state, this one included online poker.
Indiana remains a highly conservative state, however. Though its online sports betting market has been a shining success story, there is a lot of resistance to further gambling expansion. As a result, last year’s bill failed to get further than the Committee on Rules and Legislative Procedure. Having missed the February deadline to advance, the effort was dead before it properly began.
Nothing much has changed in 2022, so it’s likely this year’s effort will meet the same fate. Over time, however, the continued success of the regulated online sports betting market should mitigate some of the concerns about online casinos, so the chances get somewhat better each year.
Not every state with an active bill is likely to see it pass. Nor is every state without one a lost cause. Here we look at some states that aren’t currently considering legislation, but are nonetheless a part of the overall conversation.
Naturally, the longer a legislative session runs without a bill appearing, the less likely it becomes that the state will pass one in the current year. However, we’ve seen “buzzer beater” efforts in the past, such as Michigan’s midnight hour push in 2019. There are also times when the political will is there to pass a bill, but circumstances don’t allow it in the current year.
Conversely, there are states that come up often in the conversation not because they’re likely to pass a bill in the near future, but because it would be big news if they did. California and New York are the main examples, due to their population and wealth.
Here, too, we assign each state a momentum rating, similar to but more forward-looking than those for the active bills.
Momentum Rating: D
California is the archetypal quagmire state. It’s wealthy, and liberal, and has numerous gambling options already. Almost everyone wants to see gambling expansion happen, as it would more than double the total population participating in the US iGaming market. And yet there are simply too many competing interests for it to happen, despite multiple efforts over recent years.
Firstly, there are a great many tribal casinos in the state, and as is the case in other states, they would like to have exclusivity over as many forms of gambling as they can. Competing with them are the state’s racetracks, and its card rooms. The racetracks want in on any potential sports betting, while for the card rooms, poker is the primary issue. When it comes to online casinos, everyone wants a piece of the action if they can get it.
On top of all this, the state’s constitution requires a referendum for any modification to its gambling laws. Thus, a successful proposal would not only have to appease all the competing groups, but be simple enough and appealing enough to win the support of the general public. Thus, while it’s pretty likely that we’ll see further attempts in the near future, their prospects of success will be small unless the situation changes in some significant way. The most likely way of escaping the need for a referendum – by working directly with the tribes by way of a compact – has been taken off the table by Florida’s failed attempt to do so (see below).
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Momentum Rating: X
For a brief moment in 2021, it appeared that Florida had a chance to break into the iGaming space within a few years. A compact to enable mobile sports betting in the state had been agreed upon by the Governor and Seminole Tribe, and one of its provisions promised additional negotiations for iGaming within 36 months.
However, several members of both the House and Senate refused to ratify the compact on the basis of that clause. As such, it was struck out, a move that bodes very poorly for Florida’s potential for online casinos.
Worse still, the state is already backsliding when it comes to sports betting. A federal court has already struck down the state’s attempts to circumvent the constitutional requirement for a gambling expansion referendum. That puts things right back at square one. Florida now faces an uphill battle just to get sports betting up and running again, before it could even start to consider iGaming.
Momentum Rating: C
Kentucky has been trying for many years to legalize online sports betting and poker. That’s an unusual pair, but with no retail casinos allowed in the state, adding online casinos to such a bill would be a nonstarter.
Rep. Adam Koenig, the force behind the push, is a big fan of poker and has included it for that reason. However, he’s made it clear that he would drop online poker if necessary to get sports betting through.
Of these annual efforts, the second looked most promising, but still failed to make it out of the House. There are a few reasons for that, but one is that even-numbered years are budget years for the Kentucky legislature. Bills which create new taxes (as an online gambling bill would) require fewer votes to pass in budget years.
That makes 2022 the best chance Kentucky has had since 2020. Last year’s effort died in March without putting up much of a fight. However, most experts expect Rep. Koenig to try yet again, and perhaps make more progress this time around.
Momentum Rating: B
Iowa is a bit of a dark horse in the iGaming race. It hasn’t been part of the conversation much to date, yet there’s no reason it shouldn’t be, particularly if neighboring Illinois manages to get a bill through first.
Helping matters along this year is that the state’s retail gambling industry is starting to feel increased pressure. Expanded gambling in Illinois is one part of that, as is the fact that Iowa’s own mobile sports betting industry’s in-person registration requirement lapsed at the beginning of 2021.
Now, casinos in the western part of the state are going to face a loss of cross-border business, as Nebraska is looking to launch casino gaming at its racetracks. All of these developments should serve to make the status quo less appealing, and the state’s retail operators to ask for a new revenue stream in the form of online parterships.
Momentum Rating: B
Maryland passed a sports betting bill in 2020. This required a referendum, which passed by an overwhelming margin, which probably suggests that iGaming would also enjoy public support. A similarly good sign on the legislative front is that lawmakers wanted to repeal the requirement to have additional referendums on future gambling issues.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 proved too much of a distraction and the latter effort was abandoned. With no election taking place, then, there was no hope for an iGaming bill in 2021. However, 2022 is an election year, which means the chance for ballot measures. There’s a high probability that we’ll see a renewed effort to repeal the referendum requirement, and also one to legalize online casinos in the meantime.
Momentum Rating: D
Massachusetts looks like it may end up following in New York’s footsteps. That is, it seems there should be enough political capital to pass a sports betting bill, but probably not a full package bill with sports betting, online casino and online poker all at once. Unfortunately, the sports betting effort hasn’t even gotten off the ground yet, so iGaming is probably quite a ways off still, despite it being a progressive state.
The good news is that it is at least considering an online lottery bill in 2022, which is a step in the right direction.
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Momentum Rating: D
Online casino gambling was never part of the discussion in Missouri until very recently. However, there is an ongoing push for sports betting in the state.
There were several competing sports betting bills in the Missouri legislature in 2021. Surprisingly, one of these – HB 1364 – included online casino and poker as well.
Prospects for that bill seemed dim from the start, and it didn’t make it very far. It had its first and second readings before advancing to the Committee on Emerging Issues, but stalled there.
Already, one sports betting bill has been pre-filed for the 2022 legislative session. However, to date there’s been no indication that other forms of online gambling will be part of the conversation this year.
Momentum Rating: B
Like California, New York is high on the industry’s wish list. Until recently, there was similarly little hope of passing any iGaming legislation. Gov. Andrew Cuomo was resistant to the idea, and especially to copying neighboring New Jersey’s model. Cuomo resigned in August 2021.
However, most major operators now have a presence in the state due to mobile sports betting. DraftKings, Flutter, BetMGM, Rush Street Interactive and others will begin building up an online customer base, which will surely encourage them to push harder to be able to add online casinos to the mix.
With that launch having gone well, the conversation has started to turn to online poker, and perhaps online casino. The odds of such legislation passing on the first try are probably small, but there’s a high probability that the conversation will get started in 2022.
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Momentum Rating: X
North Dakota was not on anyone’s radar as a potential state for online gambling until last year. Tiny, conservative, and far from other states with legal iGaming, there was nothing going for it.
Even so, it made a brief, ill-fated attempt to legalize online poker in 2021. The House pushed through resolutions to put sports betting and online poker on the ballot and let voters decide. However, the Senate voted unanimously to reject both.
With such vociferous opposition from an entire branch of the legislature, the odds are essentially nil that a similar effort would fare any better this year, even if the House decides to try again.
Momentum Rating: D (2022) / C (2023)
In some regards, Ohio is a good candidate for passing iGaming legislation. It’d be a significant win for the industry, most of its neighbors have been expanding their gambling options, and it has commercial casinos already.
However, it has generally been a slow mover when it comes to gambling expansion. Despite having long been considered a favorite to pass a sports betting bill, it only managed to do so in Dec 2021, years behind some other states that would have seemed like comparative longshots.
Still, with sports betting in place, the odds are better for online casino and poker in future. However, pro-gambling forces in the state have used up most of their political capital for the time being. 2022 is probably too early for them to turn around and immediately start pushing for iGaming. Before that effort has much chance of success, the state’s new sports betting industry will have to get off the ground and prove it is more helpful than harmful.
The history of US online gambling is too long and complicated to detail in full here. Instead, we have provided a simple timeline of successful legislation and launches of online casinos, online poker, and online instant lotteries.
You can click the link to any particular state’s page to get more info about how exactly the process played out.
The basics are the same in every state. A bill can originate in either the House of Representatives or the Senate. It will get several readings and go through a committee process before a final vote. After that, it proceeds to the other branch of the legislature for a similar process.
If the two branches can’t agree on specifics or there are competing bills from the two branches, a bill might bounce back and forth several times. Once both branches have approved the same draft of the same bill, it goes to the Governor to either sign into law, or veto.
The specifics vary from state to state. This includes the length of the legislative session, the structure of the committees, and potentially even the number of votes a bill needs to pass. There are also various other procedural differences that usually don’t matter, but can occasionally add wrinkles to a bill’s path to becoming law.
In the current US political climate, states’ rights are a hot button topic. It would be unpopular for the federal government to involve itself too heavily in the subject of gambling.
The fact that the federal government has mostly stayed out of the fray is a good thing, as to the extent it has involved itself, it has been an opponent rather than an ally. The best that can be hoped for at this time is that it will back off entirely and allow states to decide for themselves.
There’s considerable variation, but most states have applied a tax rate of between 10% and 20% to most online verticals. Nevada is an outlier at the low end, charging just 6.75% for all gambling, online or retail. At the other extreme, Pennsylvania charges an eye-watering 54% for online slots, though it taxes table games and poker at a more reasonable 17%.
State-level government organizations. For states that have commercial casinos, it will typically be the same regulator overseeing both retail and online gambling. Elsewhere, it is often the state’s lottery commission, or perhaps a horse racing authority.
There are many reasons to legalize and regulate online gambling. The most common arguments in favor of it relate to the existence of illegal offshore sites, and the fact that regulated operators are preferable in comparison. Specifically:
Somewhat surprisingly, the answer is no. The idea that it does is often trotted out as an argument against legalization. However, evidence to date shows that the opposite is true, and that legal online and retail gambling industries support one another.
The most important thing to do to help the cause is to raise awareness of the dangers of the black market, the fact that prohibition is a failed policy, and that a regulated alternative is the best solution.
The main ways you can do that are to share articles promoting regulated markets, and most of all to write to your state-level representatives. Misconceptions about online gambling abound, and its moral adversaries can be disproportionately loud in their objections. Being equally vocal – but better informed – in your support is the most helpful thing you can do to counteract these obstacles.