The State of U.S. Online Poker Legality 2018
Don’t be surprised, but it’s the year 2018 and there are still only three states where online poker has been “officially” legalized and regulated. They are the same three states who started, what was supposed to become a domino-effect, bringing the former glory of the industry of online poker back to the United States. Remember the optimism in 2016 when the future was looking so bright? What the heck happened?
Waning Online Poker Support
The three big states leading the charge were New York, Michigan, and California. Legislative efforts in these important locals, have, predictably, stalled, run into opposition, fizzled, or have gotten sidetracked by “more important” matters. In New York they apparently had their fill of the subject dealing with the troublesome issue of daily fantasy sports. Support for regulated online poker is waning, and even the poker lobbyists seem to be exhausted and taking a break from their former media campaigns. Getting things done in government is never easy, and when the cause is seen as a luxury rather than a necessity it becomes even more difficult.
How interesting that the cause was not seen as unimportant in New Jersey and Nevada, two states whose economies are entirely structured upon gambling revenues. It darn well got done there, and in short order. Delaware was quick to follow, a state that has been historically keen to capitalize on attracting easy revenues by offering a safe haven for heavily-regulated industries (think privacy in corporate accounting). Perhaps it was naïve of us to assume a new trend was catching fire, especially in venues where necessity cannot be depended on being the mother of invention.
The founder of RaketheRake, a British online poker rakeback provider, disclosed in an interview in 2016 that he believed it would take ten years for online poker regulation to sweep through the United States. His business is currently operating at around 12-15% of what it once was, before the FBI chased the primary online poker companies out of the country ten years prior. Another sector-related service provider, Brian Jetter of http://bonusbots.com, which sells poker bot software, says his business similarly is about 25% of what it was back in the heyday of American online poker. No doubt the entire industry groans for a day of reconciliation.
The irony is, of course, that there is no U.S. federal law in place banning online poker (or online gambling in general, for that matter). There never has been. The major providers have simply pulled out, and stayed out, in reaction to a turbulent and uncertain political climate resulting from certain large poker operators being discovered insolvent, and a subsequent vague attachment to a bill passed in 2006 which restricts banks from making illegal online gambling site transfers. But there has never been any definition of what an illegal online gambling site actually is. A dozen or so individual states have since passed bills against online gambling, creating a legal mess. Specific legalization and regulation of online poker has, as a result, become the necessary path forward (if there is to be one).
Online Poker Future
There is one bright spot to report: Pennsylvania. An entire online gambling bill passed the state legislature late in 2017. The governor’s signature is on the new law, so it’s a done deal. Don’t expect Pennsylvania online poker rooms and casinos to be rolled out and accessible to residents until at least mid-2018. Pennsylvania may very well end up serving as an enviable example to other large states if a noticeable improvement in the state budget is realized, and thus could re-spark efforts in New York and California. If that happens, the dominoes may get back in line. We can only hope.