Online Poker Legislation in the US: Can We Expect More States to Legalize by the End of 2018?

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It’s been a long, challenging road for poker players in the United States who simply want to enjoy their game in the comfort of their own home – online. Even in recent years, the thought of legally playing poker online was a distant dream that looked very unlikely, but that is slowly changing. The fact is that now, the number of states who are looking at the potential revenues available is growing in number. It means that, by the end of 2018, the online poker landscape could be very different indeed. There is a growing movement that makes it more likely than ever that, by the time we welcome 2019, you will be able to legally play poker online, no matter which state you’re in.

The Current Situation

As it stands, there are four states in America where online casinos and online poker have been legalized. In Nevada, online casinos are still covered by the federal laws, and so they remain illegal, yet online poker is permitted. In Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania however, online casinos and poker are available legally. Pennsylvania, in particular, is continuing to grow its online gambling community, with more applications for casino licenses regularly in the news. Many more states, including Illinois and Kentucky, have authorized the playing of online lottery games, making the playing of poker in the U.S. more complicated to clarify. However, as the popularity and combined voices of those that see no reason for the federal legislation continue to grow, it’s no small surprise that no less than 19 states have introduced new gambling laws that cover daily fantasy sports. When even states like California are starting to look at changing their position on online gambling because of the revenues gained by Pennsylvania, then you know that something very significant is happening.

How We Got To This Situation

The poker community is always looking for new ways to introduce evolving legislation and guide the introduction of online poker into passing laws. In May this year, New Jersey became the focus of much attention in the poker world, as the state won its case against the U.S. Supreme Court for online sports betting. The fact that the majority of the justices presiding over the case declared the current law as unconstitutional meant that other states are acting quickly to keep up. The lifting of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) has opened the door to the potentially vast revenues possible through online sports betting, and U.S. poker players are keeping a close eye on how each individual state moves forward.

Recovering From 2011

If there was a Black Friday for online gambling sites, April 12, 2011, would be it. That was the year that the Department of Justice stamped down on online gambling, and indicted a number of key executives in the online gambling sector. Although there had been a strong element of cat-and-mouse interaction between the two prominent bodies, the seizing of domains in 2011 marked a clear statement by the DoJ – online poker is illegal and will not be tolerated. It was a clear message that left little room for doubt. Numerous online poker sites were irreversibly damaged and ended up owing customers millions of dollars in unpaid winnings. A settlement was eventually reached, but it took years for those online poker players to recoup their lost earnings, and it was only in 2017 when customers started seeing their money returned. 2011 seemed to be the end of online poker, until September of the same year. That was the month that changed the online poker community and saw the start of the changes that are still being felt across the online gambling world. Once New York and Illinois received confirmation from Assistant Attorney General Virginia Seitz that the much-cited 1961 Wire Act was only applicable to sports betting and didn’t cover online lotteries and alternate forms of online gambling, the floodgates opened. By 2014, online poker had gained a foothold in the U.S. that it maintains today.

The Impact of Daily Fantasy Sports

By far the biggest impact towards the legalization of online poker has been the rising popularity of fantasy sports betting. Not only has it had a positive effect on the representation of online gambling, but it has helped to improve the reputation of it as well, through normalization and prolific advertising campaigns. Although DFS has perhaps helped to push more direct legislation regarding poker onto the backburner of government interest, it has paved the way for greater online change.

2018 and Beyond

There’s little doubt now that, by the end of this year and well into 2019, the number of states offering online sports betting will increase. In 2019, it’s very likely that we will see a second wave of states putting the process of legalized online sports betting on their agenda. Experts are expecting a sudden move from a number of states by the end of this year, and more to come in 2019. While some states rush their legislation changes to ensure that they have the right legal cover by the end of 2018, the slower paced states will no doubt be able to ride off the back of their online predecessors and even take further advantage of tech improvements in the industry.

As online sports betting becomes more popular and legitimized, the remainder of 2018 will no doubt see a rush of activity towards grabbing some of that potential online revenue. Combined with the fact that the legislation that allows for online lotteries and individual sports betting will allow for crossovers into poker playing online, means that soon, the chances of your state allowing online gambling are proving very high indeed. For those that wish to play poker online, the future looks very bright indeed.