Back in 2013, after three states – Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware – passed online gaming and poker regulations, it was thought that there would be a “gold rush” for other states to get their intra-state industries established. In the more than six years since then, there have been relatively few states who have entered the game and, of those that have, online poker seems to have been an afterthought. Two states that have recently entered the game are demonstrations that it is online gaming and sports betting that are driving the industry, not online poker.
Pennsylvania in “No Hurry” to Start Online Poker
In the past month, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has been bringing its online casino gaming and sports betting industry online. To this point, all looks to be running smoothly for the industry (more will be known with the first reports of revenues from the outlets). But what hasn’t been seen on the Pennsylvania market are any of their casinos starting up online poker operations.
When the online gaming industry debuted last month in the Keystone State, three casinos hit the internet and were soon followed by a few more. None of them, however, opened the doors to an online poker site. In fact, those places that have online poker licenses available to them have literally said they are in “no hurry” to open these outlets, in some cases opting to hold off until 2019 before they enter the game.
West Virginia? Don’t Expect Anything Soon…
In Pennsylvania’s neighbor West Virginia, the story is even more disheartening.
Although they passed legislation earlier this year to open for online gaming and poker, West Virginia lawmakers are still in the process of penning the regulations that they would need to govern the industry. The expected completion date for this is the summer of 2020 and the story gets even worse after that.
If it were to be mid-2020 that West Virginia would even start accepting online gaming license applications, the review process and testing would take several months on its own. That means that it wouldn’t be until 2021 that there would be any online casino gaming or poker in the Mountaineer State.
To pass the time, it seems that West Virginia is looking towards sports betting to pick up the slack, passing laws for both live and online sports betting. Three casinos in the state offer live sports betting – Hollywood Casino, Mountaineer Casino and The Greenbriar – but there is currently no outlet for online sports betting. That was shut down earlier this year when a dispute with a third-party vendor caused Mardi Gras and Wheeling Island to shut down their online (and live) operations.
So Why the Delays?
The reason for the delays is a simple one – money.
Online poker hasn’t shown that it is a massive moneymaker for any online gaming operation. In New Jersey (the biggest state to have both online casino and online poker offered to its citizens), monthly revenues from online casino gaming – including slots, blackjack and other table gaming – outpace online poker revenues tenfold. Add in the sports betting offering and the story gets worse; in New Jersey, it only took a few months before sports betting began to rival online casino gaming in “take” (revenues) and, in some cases, pass it on the revenue board.
Without big bucks coming in for the operation, casinos are examining their online operations and giving the people what they seem to want: online sports betting and casinos. Poker, in most of these cases, is an afterthought and, if it were possible, some of these operations may not consider it critical to have an online poker outlet at all. Unless there is a way to pool the players through compacting (something that has been placed in doubt by the insistence of the federal government to revert their interpretation of the Wire Act to pre-2011), there isn’t going to be massive revenues created for online poker operations.
There very well may be other states that enter the game this year (Illinois and Michigan are both on the “watch list”), but they won’t be throwing the switch on their games immediately. And, with the 2020 elections looming on the horizon, some of those in power in state capitols won’t want to offend any of their constituents with an approving vote for gambling. Thus, we may be looking at the end of any legislative action and/or openings regarding online gaming and poker for 2019 – and we may not see any action in states that have approved online poker for much longer.