News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Fri. June 30, 2017: The legality of online gambling in the United States has been on shaky ground since the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, to the chagrin of players and online casinos alike. There’s cause for hope for both parties, however.
From the first months of the UIGEA, a lack of clarity in the law’s wording left certain gaming possibilities open to interpretation. While the law bans Internet gambling, it does not define that term, leaving some to wonder if it applies equally to sports betting, casino games, and skill games such as poker. This ambiguity left companies to draw their own conclusions: some, such as PartyGaming and Sportingbet, immediately announced they would no longer serve US players, while others, such as PokerStars, announced the opposite. On the infamous “Black Friday,” April 15th, 2011, the US Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation shut down many gambling sites. Business at PokerStars, FullTilt, and other online gaming services was effectively frozen. Then, in December of the same year, the DOJ reversed itself. A new policy was released, stating that only online sports betting was illegal, while other forms of online gaming would not be considered criminal. While there have been no further changes in policy, a sense of uncertainty has loomed over US players and online gaming companies since.
The Current Legalized States
New Jersey is the first US state to take advantage of this uncertainty followed by Nevada and Delaware. In 2010, the New Jersey legislature passed S490, which legalized certain forms of online gambling. State revenues from online gaming have been steadily rising since, reaching upwards of $20m USD per month in the second quarter of 2017. With numbers like that, many other states have taken notice, most notably two of New Jersey’s biggest neighbors.
Pennsylvania seems to be the most likely state first to follow New Jersey’s footsteps in legalizing online gambling. The state legislature has gone so far as to include income from online gambling in its future budget projections – Nevertheless, while much support has been expressed, no vote is currently scheduled. In New York, a 2016 bill to legalize online poker passed in the State Senate overwhelmingly but failed in the Assembly (that state’s lower legislative body). Political and economic forces seem to be aligned to make a stronger push to pass the law in 2017.
The fate of legal online gaming in these two states may be locked: if and when one legalizes online gambling, the other will likely follow suit in order to avoid losing out on regional business, talent, and investment. Though those New York and Pennsylvania seem to be first in line, many other states are stirring the pot as well. In New England, the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island are locked in a casino arms race, and it seems likely that online play will enter the conversation sooner rather than later. And with budget crises become a way of life in states like Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, the possibility of further legalization no longer seems so unlikely. And in Nevada, home of the Las Vegas strip, online poker, as well as brick-and-mortar casino play, is already completely legal.
Current trends suggest continued movement in the direction of legal, regulated online gambling be the fate of United States players and companies. For all the positive signs, though, the sense of legal uncertainty remains. For American citizens living outside of New Jersey and Nevada, the wait continues.