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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 in these states aren’t expected until later this year.
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 May 28, 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.
California is a highly liberal state with a thriving land-based gambling industry. On the surface, that would seem to make it a strong contender for legal online gambling. It also has a large population and a high median income. Those factors would make it an important market if it did succeed in passing an online gambling bill.
Unfortunately, those factors have also helped turn it into a legislative quagmire. There’s simply too much money on the table and too many interested parties all trying to cut one another out in order to keep more for themselves.
It is also one of the states with a constitutional ban on gambling, meaning any legislation which passes also needs to be put to a referendum. There was a push early in the year by the tribes to put a proposal on the ballot this fall for sports betting.
However, that bill covers retail betting only and faces opposition from the state’s card rooms. It also stalled due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but may still make it into consideration this year during budget negotiations, as a way to cover part of the deficit.
Any form of online gambling, especially casino and poker, seems a long way off for California.
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. They pass on a portion of slot machine revenues to the state. In return, the state guarantees them 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 are strongly opposed to this. The result has been 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 COVID-19 outbreak has thrown an additional monkey wrench into things. Not only has it slowed down the courts and the legislature, but it has further soured the relationship between the state and the tribes. The casinos asked for temporary authorization to offer online gambling during the shutdown and were refused. They then exercised tribal sovereignty to ignore state orders and reopen on June 1, while Governor Lamont implored them to remain closed. The result has been increased animosity on both sides.
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. 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. He made good on that promise.
There are several reasons that the attempt looked 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 failed yet again to get out of the House. It had Democratic support, but Republicans, which control both branches of the legislature, were split. Many faced strong pressure from social conservatives in their constituencies to oppose the bill. Its prospects had already dimmed by early March, when the shift in attention to the COVID-19 pandemic sounded its death knell.
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.
There is a separate bill in the House which covers sports betting, but which hasn’t yet made it to debate. The coronavirus outbreak and resulting shift in priorities now make it unlikely to get a close look this year.
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. That’s 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 did pass a trio of bills this year creating an internet lottery, legalizing sports betting, and authorizing construction of up to five casinos.
The Virginia iLottery is now up and running, while the current timeline for sports betting would have the first operators launching by the end of the year.
Naturally, casino construction will take much longer. The first step for that will be for the municipalities in question to hold referendums to decide whether or not to proceed. After that, it will still take at least a year or two before the properties are ready to open their doors.
There’s been no talk yet of online casino or poker. However, sports betting will be mobile-only until the casinos are ready to open. Meanwhile, the iLottery games bear a strong resemblance to slot machines.
There’s a good chance that Virginia lawmakers and voters will become comfortable with these options. That could mean that other forms of online gambling come as a natural continuation further down the road.