Should You Expect an Expansion of Legal Online Poker in the US?

Online gambling in all its forms – except maybe for daily fantasy sports – has been effectively outlawed in the US since 2006. That was the moment when the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act was pushed through – and the moment when many companies instantly went down the drain. Gambling companies – with the exception of a handful of brave operators – don’t accept US players to this day. They offer free online poker games in Canada, they offer gaming opportunities further South, but not in the US.

Things have changed when the Department of Justice flip-flopped on the American Wire Act, stating that it can only be applied to sports betting alone. This has given individual states the right to regulate their own gambling markets as they please. New Jersey was the first to act, passing its online gambling bill in February 2013. Its example was followed by Delaware and Nevada. And things have stopped there, although several states have seen online gambling regulations introduced over the years.

Basically, the expansion of online gambling has been marking time since 2013. Several states have been reported to be making progress on the question, with bills introduced and re-introduced, discussed and dismissed by the legislature. In the meantime only about 3% of the US population has access to legal online gambling. Under such circumstances even the existing operators can’t evolve – they need a more widespread gambling industry, and interstate agreements and partnerships to grow. But with most other states stalling, the fate of legal online gambling in the US is uncertain.

One of the issues that stands between the Americans and legal online gambling is the political climate. 2016 is a presidential election year – and the US legislatures are traditionally making less than average in such years. They refrain from passing controversial bills in election years – this could mean further delays in the gambling legislation.

Another thing that could hinder progress on online gambling legislation is the case of daily fantasy sports. The ongoing debate about its legal status – whether it’s gambling or not – is fueled by the ongoing media attention to the business. Ever since the infamous insider trading scandal broke out last year, DFS regulation has pushed online poker and casino discussions aside. It seems that legislators want to tackle this issue before moving on to anything else.

But online gambling should not be pushed aside. New Jersey’s online gambling industry has generated revenues worth $150 million in 2015, and the state has pocketed $25 million of this total. And this is “easy money”, funding the state’s budget without too much effort, and without a further tax burden on the population. This should provide enough incentive for more states – starting with Pennsylvania – to ramp up their efforts to legalize online gambling, and save the US industry as a whole.

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