There was much hope for progress in the United States online poker industry. Several states pushed bills further than in years past, and other states entered the fray with positive studies and reports making an impact on legislators. Even so, the year ended with no states joining the small industry that only still includes New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware.
There was a rather significant scare in 2016, though, as friends of Sheldon Adelson made several pushes to ban online gambling on the federal level. Members of Congress and a group of state attorneys general made waves, and despite those waves simply washing ashore with little fanfare, they are encouraged to move forward. A new administration containing several anti-gambling statesmen will prompt online poker supporters to remain on the defensive throughout the coming year.
Here’s a wrap-up of where the US stands at the end of 2016, as well as how several states progressed in 2016 and will start the new year with potential.
Read More: PPA Gives Hope for 2017 US Online Poker
The two latest attempts by members of Congress to push for an online gambling ban have been squashed. And efforts from earlier in the year have died as well, all with the end of the 2016 legislative session in Washington, D.C.
Of the year’s actions, Senator Tom Cotton was the most prominent sponsor of an online gaming ban with his S.3376 introduced in September. It was co-sponsored by Senators Lindsey Graham and Mike Lee but failed to gain traction or even garner a real title for the bill. That effort was similar to the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA). And just days before Congress recessed in December, US Representative Mike Fitzpatrick introduced HR.6453 to reverse the 2011 Department of Justice decision on the Wire Act, but that failed to move as well.
Ten state attorneys general even got in on the action with a co-signed letter to Vice President-elect Mike Pence to ask that the new administration consider reversing the 2011 DOJ ruling. This was rebuffed by numerous state officials and industry experts, as the letter contained numerous false or misleading assertions. However, the incoming US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, if he survives the nomination process, may be open to the message of Sheldon Adelson’s friends and beneficiaries.
Outlook: A significant effort to ban online gambling is likely in 2017.
114th Congress is done & we successfully muted #RAWA again! I expect to see it return next year & we will be ready to fight again.-jp— PokerPlayersAlliance (@ppapoker) December 10, 2016
The process of pushing online gambling legislation in Pennsylvania this year was a roller coaster ride. After a year of strong efforts by State Representative John Payne, it all came down to HB.1887, a gambling expansion bill that included online poker and casino games. Passage looked promising due to the insertion of $100 million of revenue from said expansions in the state budget passed in the summer.
The wrench in the process came with a State Supreme Court ruling late in the year that the legislature create a fix for a local casino tax issue. While it could have been resolved with an add-on to HB.1887, it was instead pushed aside to handle separately. The House passed the gambling expansion bill, and members even lobbied the Senate to follow suit. The legislature recessed in the middle of December with no Senate action on the bill.
Online gaming must now start over in 2017. There will likely be some tweaking to the gambling expansion bill before it is reintroduced, but Payne will not be there to push for online gaming’s inclusion due to his retirement. Lobbyists must find new champions for the movement and hope that Pennsylvania will legalize online gaming in partnership with its growing land-based casinos to boost industry revenues.
Outlook: Still a good possibility that online gambling will be legal in Pennsylvania by the end of 2017.
Online gambling legislation in Michigan took everyone by surprise and came closer to passing than most thought possible. State Senator Mike Kowall sponsored the bill in April, pushed it through a committee, and got it to the Senate. He remained optimistic about it throughout the remainder of the year, and even the Poker Players Alliance felt that it had a significant chance of passage in November.
But despite a campaign for poker supporters to contact legislators and the efforts of the PPA to collaborate with Kowall to get it done, the bill died in December when the legislature adjourned for the year. Momentum was there, however, and will likely carry over into the coming year.
Outlook: If Kowall remains committed to online gaming, Michigan has a very good chance to pass a bill in 2017.
Late in 2016, a study commissioned by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission resulted in the organization of a special committee formed to examine the possibilities of online poker, gaming, lottery, and DFS. The group first met in recent weeks, with pro-online gaming Steve Crosby of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission included. The results of several months of upcoming meetings will be compiled into a report and list of gaming recommendations for Governor Charlie Baker. The information is due at the end of July, and while that doesn’t leave much time for a bill to be written, debated, and passed through the legislature, progress is likely to be made.
Outlook: Something may develop in the late summer months of 2017 when the report is filed.
For years, a relatively small group of online poker advocates have been pushing for legislation to change the status of the game. Currently, online poker is felony in the state of Washington.
In 2016, a few legislators introduced a bill – again – to regulate online poker, though it differed from the 2015 bill that proposed online poker and casino games. The latest effort restricted the legislation to online poker only. But despite a strong land-based casino industry in a state that supports gambling, the bill died before it gained any traction.
Late in the year, though, the results of a new study from Spectrum Gaming Group were released, and they could change the game for 2017. The study was requested by the Washington State Gambling Commission and showed that the state’s demographics are similar to those of New Jersey. With that in mind, the estimate for potential online gaming revenue for the state was set at approximately $100 million. Such encouraging information could prompt more attention to online poker and gambling in 2017.
Outlook: Could gain traction in 2017 if Washington needs revenue and WSGC pushes a bill.
Online poker has been on the table in California for quite a few years, but never had it progressed as far as it did in 2016. Complete with a $60 million revenue-sharing deal to placate the horse racing industry and a $20 million deal to allow PokerStars into the market, it looked like all systems were a go. The bill passed the Appropriations Committee and to the Assembly floor in the summer.
Assemblyman Adam Gray worked with all lobbying groups and found compromises on all sides, but none were good enough to push the bill to a vote. Opposing interests took it down, with threats of litigation being the final straw. Eventually, the bill died at the end of August.
By December, reports surfaced that little hope for online poker could be mustered for the coming year. Online Poker Report wrote that PokerStars and its coalition that includes the Morongo Band of Mission Indians plan to work toward a new bill in 2017 but remain pessimistic that other tribal entities will agree with the license suitability language. Further, Steve Stallings of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association told OPR, “I don’t really see any prospects for anything happening” in 2017.
With new legislators and accumulated frustration standing in the way, the road to California online poker is still steep and barely passable. It will depend on the lobbying groups, their willingness to find new supporters in the legislature, and the ability to devise a workable compromise.
Outlook: Frustration factions must find compromise for tribal agreement to move forward in 2017.
There was progress for New York in 2016. A bill made it all the way through the Senate with the help of State Senator John Bonacic and passed by an overwhelmingly favorable vote for online poker legalization. However, Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow revealed he had underlying concerns about online gaming infringing upon land-based casino revenue and cheating possibilities, and he refused to push the bill through the Assembly for a positive vote. The bill died there in June.
Nevertheless, the upcoming year will see the opening of three non-tribal land-based casinos to follow the one that just opened this month. If Bonacic can find a member of the Assembly to carry the bill after it again passes the Senate, New York could easily legalize internet games in 2017.
Outlook: Look for a big push for regulated online poker in 2017, especially from the Senate side.
@DivergentGames Remember when the NY Senate passed online poker 53-5 but not enough votes in the Assembly? Me too!— Dustin Gouker (@DustinGouker) October 25, 2016
The same Spectrum Gaming Group that recommended online gaming for Washington State conducted a similar study in Ohio at the behest of Governor John Kasich. While the focus was on taking the lottery online, the study recommended that other online gaming be considered as well. As the legislature may examine daily fantasy sports and an online lottery in 2017, there is a chance that online poker and casino games may be on the agenda as well.
Outlook: Ohio is a longshot, but the topic may come up for debate in 2017.