Which states are being actively tracked for online poker and casino legislation by Online Poker Report?
Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware all have some form of legal online gambling in place. Early in 2019, West Virginia became the fifth state to legalize online gambling, and Michigan closed out the year by passing its own bill, though the first online casinos aren’t expected to go live until early 2021.
More could be moving their way toward the on-deck circle, too. Below is a look at those we’re monitoring right now, which will update as events warrant. Our map of legislation also includes a comprehensive online gambling bill tracker.
Last updated March 2, 2020.
As an extremely conservative state, Alabama seems like a longshot to legalize online gambling in any form. At the moment, it is one of only five states that doesn’t even have a lottery. There has, however, been the tiniest bit of progress this year, as Gov. Kay Ivey has ordered a study on the subject. She had previously said that such a study would be a necessary first step before she would even consider any gambling-related legislation.
The results of the study are due to be submitted by the end of the year. That will be only the first on a long road towards online gambling for the Heart of Dixie, and one that’s likely to be riddled with roadblocks.
Momentum: Treading water
Connecticut is in the process of attempting to pass online gambling legislation, but it has found itself trapped in the middle of a battle between its tribal casinos, the Department of the Interior, and MGM.
For some time now, MGM has wanted to open a casino in the state. However, Connecticut has a deal in place with its tribes, in which they pass on a portion of slot machine revenues to the states in return for the promise of exclusivity.
The state has given approval for the tribes to build a new casino in East Windsor. That would be the state’s first casino not located on a tribal reservation, and MGM feels that means there should be a bidding process. The tribes, meanwhile say even commencing such a process would lead them to end revenue-sharing with the state. This has led to a lawsuit by MGM against the Department of the Interior.
State legislators have made multiple attempts to draft a bill which would authorize online sports betting and casino. Yet another one was introduced to the Senate this January by Sen. Cathy Osten. Like previous ones, the problem with this bill is that it contains approval for a second off-reservation casino in Bridgeport. The implications of the lawsuit for that mean that the bill can’t pass until the lawsuit is resolved.
The good news is that aside from this obstacle, there seems to be a lot of political will to legalize online gambling. However the lawsuit resolves itself, some kind of online gambling bill should eventually pass. The only question is how much of a delay the lawsuit will cause. The state and the tribes themselves have even involved themselves in the case in an attempt to have it dismissed by the court.
Illinois burst onto the scene as a contender to legalize online gambling in 2017, when the Senate passed a bill with ease. The House didn’t vote on the legislation, and slim hopes of something happening quickly came and went.
The conversation shifted to sports betting in 2018, and towards a more comprehensive bill. That avenue bore fruit this summer, when the House and Senate reached a compromise. The Senate would get the expansion of land-based casinos it had wanted for more than a decade, and in the same bill, the House would get to legalize online sports betting.
Unfortunately, the bill doesn’t include anything about online casino or poker. What’s more, only land-based venues will be allowed to have online apps at first, and customers will have to register in person before being allowed to play online. After 18 months, that will change, and standalone apps with online registration will be permitted. License applications for casinos, stadiums and racetracks to offer sports betting began in December.
Despite the disappointing aspects of the bill, it represents positive progress. If online sports betting is the big success for Illinois that it has been in other states, it may encourage lawmakers to consider online casino and poker as well.
Last year was a roller-coaster ride for the prospects of Kentucky online gambling. The ups and downs have now continued into 2020.
Early in 2019, there was considerable optimism about online gambling coming to Kentucky. Rep. Adam Koenig introduced Bill H 175, which would have paved the road for sports betting, daily fantasy sports, and online poker. Unfortunately, he couldn’t quite muster the support needed, and the bill failed to pass.
Koenig promised to bring back a similar bill as soon as the 2020 legislative session got underway, and has made good on that promise. There are several reasons that it was much more likely to succeed the second time around.
Firstly, even-numbered years are budget years in Kentucky, which changes some of the rules surrounding legislation. In particular, bills like H 175, which seek to generate revenue for the state, require a 60% supermajority to pass in non-budget years and only a 50% simple majority in budget years.
Secondly, the state has a new governor in Andy Beshear. Beshear was formerly the state’s Attorney General and, in that capacity, was a vocal advocate for gaming regulation. Finally, there’s a strong example to point to in neighboring Indiana, which has found sports betting to be a big success.
Despite Koenig’s optimism, however, the bill is struggling yet again to get out of the House. It has Democratic support, but Republicans, which control both branches of the legislature, are split. Many face strong pressure from social conservatives in their constituencies to oppose the bill. Even supporters among House Republicans don’t want to stick their necks out without assurance that it will get through the Senate. The bill is now back in committee, where multiple amendments will be considered, including one which would, unfortunately, remove provisions for online poker.
An over-arching gaming bill that appears to allow for online gambling in Massachusetts surfaced this year. The bill’s focus, however, is daily fantasy sports. A hearing was held on the bill in February, but there’s been absolutely no movement on that front since then.
Some good news: The Gaming Commission in Massachusetts remains one of the most advanced and knowledgeable organizations when it comes to new forms of gaming. That may be part of the reason progress on online gambling has been slow, but it’s for the best in the long run. At the moment, it is busy assessing the impact of the new casinos authorized by its 2011 expansion bill. But that attention to detail means that when the state does get around to online gambling, it’s likely to get it right.
In the meantime, the closest thing we’ve seen to concrete progress is FanDuel getting approval to provide online horse race wagering for Suffolk Downs. It’s a small thing, but it suggests that the Gaming Commission is potentially friendly towards companies which hope to offer multiple online verticals in the state some day.
Momentum: Treading water
The story for 2019 was much the same. Legislators considered online poker legislation for the sixth consecutive year under new leadership for the Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee in Sen. Joseph Addabbo. In January, Addabbo introduced a bill that would reclassify online poker as a legal game of skill, but little else was heard for the rest of the year. Addabbo reintroduced a virtually identical bill this year, S 18, but unless something changes, it’s likely to be the same story all over again.
Part of the problem is opposition from the state’s governor, Andrew Cuomo. That said, there’s been progress of a sort, in that the New York State Gaming Commission has finally moved forward with a comprehensive online gaming study it has wanted for a while now. Addabbo believes that its results could help sway Cuomo and other critics.
The study was announced in July and was supposed to begin in September. Unfortunately, delays in selecting an organization to conduct the study mean that its first draft is only due June 1 next year, the same day as the next state budget. The final report is due June 1, just one day before the end of the legislative session. Thus, any 2020 sports betting legislation that hinges on the report will have to be a buzzer-beater.
At the moment, Virginia lacks both online gambling and any land-based casinos. That makes online casino and poker less likely as prospects in the short term. However, the state’s legislators are currently in conference over two pairs of bills, one looking to legalize sports betting and online lottery, and the other looking to allow the construction of land-based casinos. There is broad bipartisan support for both, but the problem right now is that on each subject, there are competing bills in the House and Senate which will need to be reconciled.
For sports and iLottery, it’s HB 896 squaring off against SB 384. In their original forms, both were very similar save for the tax rate for sports betting operators. The House bill set it at 20% of gross revenue, and the Senate bill at 15%. However, the amendments to the House bill proposed by the Senate included the removal of the provision for an online lottery. It’s not clear why, but it suggests that the iLottery might end up being a bargaining chip.
Tax rates are also the main issue when it comes to the land-based casino bills. Here, it’s the Senate which wants the higher tax rate, however. Both bills use a progressive taxation system. The range in the House bill is from 15% to 28%, while the Senate’s goes from 27% to 40%. Though there’s no online component to these bills, the construction of land-based casinos could make online casino and poker more likely down the road.