Do you remember? Yes, I’m thinking of the Earth Wind & Fire song about September.
I’m also thinking about this past month of online poker happenings in the United States. September is not a month most will want to remember if they were hoping for more online poker or Internet gambling of any kind in the legalized American market.
Let’s start with the states which have legalized online gaming and go from there.
The good news from Garden State is PokerStars may be another step closer to entering the market. And when that news comes directly from the head of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, it sounds even better for the industry.
DGE Director David Rebuck spoke to various poker media outlets about the process of vetting Amaya-owned PokerStars for a license to operate in New Jersey. He explained to iGaming Business that the group has already done 80 interviews and traveled to numerous foreign countries as part of the process, and that “thorough, comprehensive review” is what has caused the delay. Another quarter closes this week with no decision, but Rebuck explained, “I’m not going to be the first person to sabotage the work of this Division. We’re going to do this in a very professional way, which will be published to the world, because whatever decision we come down on will be scrutinized and some will hate it and some will love it.”
Sounds ominous, no?
Also in New Jersey, the DGE released the August revenue report, which showed that online gambling brought in $12.2 million, with only $1.98 million of that garnered from online poker. The overall number was down by $300K from July but up 16% from August of 2014. Poker was up $100K from July to August but down 12% year-on-year.
The Borgata/PartyPoker alliance continued to lead the market and even grew 5%, and the Caesars/WSOP partnership grew by the same percentage to hold steady in second, both including online poker in their numbers. As for the sites offering only casino games, Golden Nugget fell nearly 20%, while Resorts soared by more than 30%. Tropicana/Virgin stayed in fifth place out of fifth.
The three racinos that offer online gambling in Delaware finally found a little bit of a boost. The August numbers released by the Delaware State Lottery showed an 11% gain in online poker revenue up to $31,248 in August from $28,158 in July. However, that August amount is a 19% decrease from the same month last year.
Delaware Park continued to lead the racino race, pulling in more than $21K of the total online poker revenue and boosting nearly 13%. Dover Downs saw the biggest increase of 22%, while Harrington Raceway continue to trail and even fell by more than 13% in August.
Overall, Delaware has yet to find its online gambling sweet spot, even in spite of the partnership with Nevada for shared online poker player pools.
No news is good news!
Hopes were pinned on several states that discussed and reviewed the possibility of online poker or gambling for a revenue boost. Two states that held hearings let their possibilities fall by the wayside in September, and Pennsylvania showed that it has a long way to go.
Another year, another online poker effort fails due to conflicting factions and the inability to find enough common ground to support a bill.
This year, as have many others, started with promising movements. California State Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer introduced the Internet Poker Consumer Protection Act of 2015 in January, and shell online poker bills were submitted in February – Assemblyman Adam Gray with one and Senator Isadore Hall with a Senate bill. Online poker fans could almost see stacked virtual tables dancing in their heads.
By the end of April, Gray’s bill (AB 431) passed the Governmental Organization Committee, and it made it through the Assembly Appropriations Committee at the end of May. But tension was high amongst the various interested parties, as the PokerStars coalition remained at odds with various Indian tribes, and the horse racing industry pushed back against all of them. Other hearings on the summer schedule were ultimately canceled due to a lack of common ground, despite what many considered a successful tour of PokerStars and its pro players through the state.
Finally, the legislative session closed on September 11 with no progress for online poker. It is obvious that any efforts in 2016 must include more consensuses, a happy horse racing industry, and tribal agreement on a way to move forward. For now, Californians will have to be happy with their beaches and palm trees and movie stars and wineries and live card rooms.
It’s up to you, New York, New York! Clearly, Frank Sinatra wasn’t talking about online poker.
State Senator John Bonacic is a staunch supporter of online poker legislation and introduced his bill with the hopes of pushing for a committee hearing in 2015. Though he seemed certain of no bill passage this year, he hoped for momentum leading to a more positive outlook in 2016. His plan proved possible when the Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee agreed to a September 9 hearing, though it should be noted that Bonacic chairs that committee.
There was some hype around the hearing with notable testimony scheduled from the Poker Players Alliance and Gambling Compliance. However, the hearing itself was mostly a dud. Three of the committee members attended the hearing but two left early, leaving Bonacic as the only one to hear all of the testimony. The talk in the hearing was mostly positive, though, with people like PPA Executive Director John Pappas pushing a strong message.
Nevertheless, Bonacic does plan to re-introduce his online poker bill next year. His intentions are to speak with fellow legislators, obtain more support, and make changes to the bill that would garner co-sponsors and another hearing.
Little progress was made in Pennsylvania toward online poker regulation in 2015. In fact, the industry’s champion recently showed how much work has yet to be done there.
Pennsylvania State Representative John Payne has been one of the staunchest proponents of online poker legislation, and he is one of several authors of bills to accomplish that goal. He even pushed online poker revenue as an option during contentious budget talks in August, though he was unsuccessful.
And then ISIS entered the picture. ISIS? Yes. Payne spoke to a Pennsylvania news channel this month about the positive effects that online gambling could have on the state’s budget. At the same time, he answered a question about online poker losses by suggesting that money may be funneled to China or ISIS.
Sadly, zombies get none of that money.
Check out the pain of the Payne video below:
Finally, there is movement to report regarding federal attempts to ban online gambling in the United States. The actual Restoration of America’s Wire Act has yet to move on its own, as sponsors Senators Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio are both busy trying to wade through the list of Republican nominees for the 2016 Presidential election.
However, some reports surfaced this month that there is a push by Sheldon Adelson’s lobbyists to pass legislation to stop online gambling in America for two years. In essence, the effort suggests that a study be conducted to analyze the online gambling industry and stop states from enacting new online gambling legislation during that time.
From the rumor mill: because GOP know they can't get a igambling ban thru they'll push a Senate bill for a 2-year study & moratorium. #lame— michelleminton (@michelleminton) September 10, 2015
Most industry analysts say that there is little momentum for such a bill, especially with all of the other issues on Congress’ plate. And the Republicans have their own special problems with the sudden retirement announcement of Rep. John Boehner and an impending government shutdown.
But some suggest that the mere scare of an online gambling moratorium could be positive for the industry that just seems to be flailing its arms in the air. States considering the legalization of online poker or casino games may not appreciate the power-grab from the state by Congress, and they may not like the idea that Sheldon Adelson supporters might conduct the study and sway results in favor of the online gambling ban Adelson so desperately wants. If any state wants to retain control of its online gambling decision, the threat of RAWA or its little cousin might push them to act in a timely manner.
Congress is known to be unpredictable at times. What happens with RAWA remains to be seen.