The online gambling industry in the United States has been anything but boring since 2011.
The tumult began with what became known as Black Friday on April 15, 2011 – when the DOJ shutdown PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute/UB, but this was only the beginning of what would be a three-year roller coaster ride.
The industry got a slight boost at the end of 2011 when the Department of Justice offered up a new interpretation of the Wire Act’s applicability to online gambling.
This new opinion (which overturned a previous DOJ opinion from 2002) led to Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey passing iGaming legislation and launching legalized online poker and gambling in 2013. This, in turn, led to optimism that even more states would follow suit in 2014.
And then 2014 rolled around and online gambling expansion came to a screeching halt, and calls for a ban began.
Since it’s anyone’s guess what will happen in 2015, here are nine eight of my best guesses on what will transpire on hot topic issues in the industry in 2015 – admittedly, some are more far more likely to occur than others.
Topic #1: New Jersey will enter into an interstate agreement
The writing is on the wall for this prediction to come true, and when it does it will be a game changer, creating a legitimate pool of players (perhaps as many as 2,000 players online at any given time) in three separate states.
Nevada and Delaware are expected to start sharing players in early 2015 per 888 CEO Brian Mattingley, and several people in the know in New Jersey (consultant Mario Galea and Governor Chris Christie) have indicated that the Garden State may join them down the road.
Topic #2: Payment processing will get a major boost
Whether it’s improved success rates following the rollout of new online gambling codes in Q2 of 2015 according to Skrill USA Vice President Joe Hall, or the widespread rumors of PayPal getting into the U.S. iGaming market, I expect payment processing to improve by leaps and bounds in 2015 – it can’t get worse right?
Topic #3: At least 4 more states will launch online lotteries
The lottery has always had a “Keep up with the Joneses” feel to it, with states pretty much copying anything that other states have successfully rolled out.
With three states already offering online lottery sales (Illinois, Georgia, and Minnesota) and a fourth (Maryland) getting ready to do the same, I expect online lottery sales to proliferate in 2015.
West Virginia has already started to talk about it, and Massachusetts has been pushing hard for it over the past two years as well.
Topic #4: Online poker products will improve dramatically
If a “lessons learned” column were written by the now-shuttered Ultimate Poker, it would likely focus on the company’s underwhelming software.
With several new operators expected to launch in the coming months (HDPoker, TI, and 888 in Nevada, as well as Pala in NJ), and with the addition of PokerStars (soon?), one would think the current operators would begin to realize their current products are simply not going to cut it.
Bwin.party Group Director of Poker Jeffrey Haas said as much, calling the current version of partypoker’s software in New Jersey, “mediocre,” and that improvements needed to be made when I spoke with him at G2E.
The only potential stumbling block is whether or not the regulators keep up with the upgrades the sites want to deploy. It may come down to: Can the DGE approve new software upgrades and features fast enough?
Haas said they were happy with the process, calling the DGE’s testing process, “faster than France’s ARJEL but slower than Italy.” He also said that the DGE is “very smart,” but the regulatory body is “learning as well.”
Topic #5: HDPoker will challenge the All American Poker Network in Nevada
I had a chance to take HDPoker for a test spin at G2E and I was impressed with the product, particularly the mobile options available.
This seems to be the first true cross-platform online poker site, and their willingness to focus on mobile could allow them to grab a decent market share in what is now a one-horse market in Nevada – Sorry Real Gaming, you don’t count as a “Real” poker room at this point.
Topic #6: The AGA will come out in favor of online gaming expansion
When the AGA pulled out of the online gambling fight it was as if someone released their grip and let the air escape out of a balloon. It was the very definition of a deflating moment.
The AGA’s unwillingness to speak out in favor of online gambling has been aggravating, but I just can’t envision the singular trade group of the gaming industry not eventually seeing the error of their ways and reengaging in this fight.
Although the Poker Players Alliance John Pappas doesn’t think they will.
I don’t expect a change anytime soon,” Pappas said. “You are more likely to see a new organization formed representing the interest of the iGaming industry before AGA switches course.”
But perhaps this was a case of the AGA saying, let’s give Adelson a year. After that, the AGA needs to throw their considerable weight back behind an online gambling push.
Topic #7: Ultimate Poker will shut down in Nevada or be sold
This column was originally titled “What are the Odds These 9 iGaming Issues Come to Pass in 2015?”
From the moment they selected the name “Ultimate” I had a feeling it was only a matter of time.
To Ultimate’s credit, they gave it the old college try, and I’m still rooting for them to succeed.
Unfortunately, their departure from New Jersey, followed by massive layoffs to key individuals in the company, seems to indicate the company has come to the realization it’s either not going to work, or they need a serious reboot.
The product is nothing to write home about, but it’s simply too good and too much money has been invested to simply scrap it – look for the Fertitta’s to spin off Ultimate Gaming in 2015. If a sale doesn’t occur in 2015, Ultimate Poker will likely exit the Nevada market before the end of the year and continue to look for a buyer from the sidelines.
Topic #7: California will pass an online poker bill
I’ve been going back and forth on this one, but at the end of the day I feel the threat of a potential federal ban (which should get talked about in the halls of Congress during the Lame Duck session) could act as a wake up call for states to get moving on this issue.
Will it be enough to get California lawmakers to act? Probably not, but it could force the principles in the state that are truly interested in online poker expansion to come together and agree to a compromise. And then the lawmakers will follow.
Topic #8: A state other than California, Pennsylvania, or New York will pass an iGaming bill
I’ll give you three potential candidates you probably weren’t aware of: West Virginia, Maryland, and Mississippi.
Mississippi (where the addition of land-based casinos is lauded as a revenue-generating success) has an online gaming study due at the end of the year, and even though they are the reddest of the red states, Mississippians know the value of gambling expansion, as land-based gaming is a massive revenue generator for the historically cash-strapped state.
Maryland is prepping to launch online lottery sales in 2015, and Treasurer Steve Martino made comments at the Massachusetts forum on online gambling held in March that Maryland was exploring online gambling.
As noted above, West Virginia is seriously looking at online lottery sales, and Lottery Director John Musgrave didn’t rule out comprehensive online gambling.