The U.S. has come down with a case of sports betting fever. Two-thirds of states have legalized the activity, and half of the country going all-in and legalizing mobile sports betting. But many of these same states have resisted online poker and casino legalization.
That said, there are reasons for tempered optimism in 2023, with several potential candidates expected to explore online poker and casino gambling.
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Yes to Sports, No to Casino and Poker
The rapid expansion of online sports betting following the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) in May 2018 far outpaces other online gambling verticals. Roughly 35 states have legalized sports betting – depending on how you count states like Florida and Nebraska. Twenty-Five of those states have taken the plunge and legalized mobile sports betting.
By comparison, online casino is legal in just six states:
- New Jersey
- West Virginia
Online poker is doing slightly better, as it is legal in seven states:
- New Jersey
- West Virginia
However, it should be noted that online poker sites have yet to launch in West Virginia and Connecticut.
Explaining the Discrepancy
The consensus is sports betting is an easier sell to the public and a less controversial vote for lawmakers. Interestingly, where legal online casinos or poker have been introduced, it’s been a milquetoast vote without any political fallout. Nor has it created a social crisis, as some naysayers predict.
One of the bigger hang-ups thwarting online casinos and poker is fear. There is also an unfounded fear among some stakeholders that online poker and casino games will cannibalize their existing brick-and-mortar business. This fear runs deep among smaller, regional casinos in sparsely populated areas. Sports betting didn’t have that problem, as it wasn’t offered in land-based casinos outside of Nevada.
But without getting too deep into the reasons for sports betting’s success and online poker and casino’s failures, here are the states likely to discuss online gambling expansions in 2023.
All Eyes on Indiana
The best candidate to legalize online casino gambling in 2023 is Indiana.
Indiana was a solid contender in 2022 but quickly became a pretender when an investigation into illegal campaign contributions made gambling expansion a third-rail issue. The investigation has concluded, but because of its freshness, it could still act as a roadblock in 2023.
Another impediment is Indiana’s short legislative session, which runs from Jan. 10 to April 29. And because 2022 was an election year, there will be plenty of new lawmakers to bring up to speed on the issue.
The good news is that Indiana Sen. John Ford will lead the charge again. Ford’s profile also got a boost, as he is the new President of the National Council of Legislators from Gambling States (NCLGS) and has made online gambling a policy priority. Ford will no doubt be looking for a legislative victory in his home state.
Four Other States to Watch
New York has flirted with legalizing online poker for years, but the Empire State has never been able to seal the deal, despite bills passing through the state senate several times. Online poker talks were sidelined while the state shifted its attention to sports betting, but now online poker is back on the menu, along with its big brother, online casinos.
Sen. Joseph Addabbo is bullish on online gambling. However, his optimism should only extend to his chamber, as the Assembly has been where online gambling bills have gone to die.
Also standing in the way is the New York Constitution, which requires gambling expansions to go before the voters. The state bypassed that requirement with sports betting by calling online a different delivery channel, but online casinos might receive more pushback from gambling opponents.
And no conversation would be complete without noting New York has commercial and tribal casinos, a combination that has been a severe tension point in other locales.
Iowa is far from the first state people think of as open-minded on gambling, but Iowa was one of the first states to consider legalizing online poker, which it did in the aughts. The state passed and launched sports betting without much fanfare, and it has proven to be a robust market for mobile betting. With scattered casinos across the geographically expansive state, legal online casino gambling and poker can increase access.
That said, this is still Iowa, and drumming up enough support for legalizing online casinos will be a difficult task. As such, 2023 could be the jumping-off point for a multi-year effort to legalize online gambling in Iowa.
Mississippi is another state that has taken several bites at the online gambling apple. Mississippi is a candidate to add mobile sports betting and could use those mobile sports wagering discussions to resurrect its efforts to legalize online poker or casinos.
The big hurdle in Mississippi is the current laws restricting gambling to riverboat casinos located in approved areas and within 800 feet of the water.
To add mobile betting, online casinos, or online poker, that restriction would have to be lifted, or the state would have to decide that gambling in Mississippi takes place at the server (which could be located within 800 feet of the water). The former would create a legislative battle. The latter would open the door to a legal challenge, as Florida found out when it tried to legalize sports betting on the same grounds.
If Kentucky tackles online gambling in 2023, it will limit its efforts to sports betting and poker. Online casino is not on the legislative menu in the Bluegrass State.
A bill to legalize sports betting, online poker, and daily fantasy sports has been filed, but Kentucky has a string of hurdles it needs to overcome if it wants to be an Indiana-level candidate.
Can a Dark Horse Emerge?
One of the things I’ve learned in the 15 years I’ve been following efforts to legalize online gambling in the U.S. is to pay close attention to the best candidates and leave some bandwidth for an unexpected candidate to emerge as a serious contender.
One of the remaining sports betting candidates, like Georgia, could take a comprehensive approach to gambling expansion. And there is always the possibility of an out-of-leftfield state emerging.
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