Martin Lycka: NFL season grabs all the hype, but what about internet casino?

Image source: SBC

Martin Lycka – SVP for American Regulatory Affairs and Responsible Gambling at Entain – takes a look at the hype around the new NFL season and asks why the internet casino and poker sectors appear to be lagging behind the race to grab the limelight.

Here we go again. The 102nd season of the National Football League has kicked off. There shall be Hollywood-like drama, great victories and miserable defeats. New heroes will rise and battle-hardened veterans will be back to amaze us with their longevity. Banter with your NFL buddies, teasing over your rival’s losses, celebrating your team’s famous victory, albeit in some cases only in your Fantasy League. 

Most, if not all, states that have recently regulated their sports betting markets are scrambling to open the doors to their sports betting markets right at the start of the season; or at least in a good time ahead of the climax of the NFL as well as the US betting season, namely Super Bowl LVI. 

Glitzy and glamorous customer packages will be on offer. We will get to hear from sports betting ambassadors old and new about their predictions. Power rankings, with their ebbs and flows, will be presented on betting sites and elsewhere. 

And in the meantime other states that are yet to allow sports betting within their respective bailiwicks will continue the hard slog of getting regulation over the wire so that they’re ready at the start of season 103 next year; and if not 103, then 104. 

Sports betting has seemingly all the spotlight at the moment; not only because of the thrill generated by the sports that underlie it and the involvement of big leagues and heroic athletes. 

Using maelstrom or whirlwind analogies would not be appropriate given the recent tragic weather related events down South and on the East Coast; so let’s just say that sports betting regulation in the United States has been as unstoppable as Patrick Mahomes II every time he puts on a Chiefs jersey. 

The same cannot really be said for internet casino and poker though. Unlike sports betting. internet casino did not have to wait until 2018 to get the green light. And indeed, in its early heydays Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey obliged and permitted at least some forms of the other online gambling vertical. 

The three trail blazers have, however, only been followed by a handful of other states since, most notably Pennsylvania and Michigan, with West Virginia, for now, completing the roster of US internet casino states. 

The rather pedestrian evolution of the US internet casino markets would appear somewhat bizarre considering the previous European as well as the upcoming Ontario experience where all product verticals (will) have in most instances been regulated at the same time. 

This sentiment is corroborated further by the fact that internet casino (just like sports betting) beats one revenue record after another in the states that have permitted it. So why is it that at least for now internet casino seems to have taken on the guise of a poor relation to its sports betting sibling? 

First of all, it is worth reminding ourselves that internet casino and poker have had to fend off a legal challenge from certain land based casino quarters in the form of Wire Act based litigation. The Trump administration arguably rewarded their loyalty to the cause with an overly extensive interpretation of the Wire Act that would have impeded cross border transmissions of casino and poker data. 

This interpretation has been eventually struck down by courts, potentially paving the way for interstate poker and to the extent required casino liquidity. The Biden administration has already made it clear that it will not be standing in the way. 

Michigan, supported by Pennsylvania, has taken the lead on breathing new life into the existing liquidity sharing agreement New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware entered into many moons ago. Yet, unlike West Virginia, which is all in to join the shared liquidity fray as soon as practicable, the two larger states have so far been agonisingly biding their time and left us all, liquidity sharing proponents, hanging. 

We shall be watching this space, hoping that 2021 is the year when stars aligned for an initial big liquidity rollout. 

The liquidity pool will get even bigger if and when other states have allowed internet casino in their territories. Representatives in Indiana, Illinois and North Dakota have tried their luck with legislation that would make internet casino and poker a reality. 

They have, however, either run out of parliamentary time or encountered mighty forces, such as the video gaming terminal operators, which has so far frustrated these attempts to further expand the product offering available on the US internet gambling markets. 

Despite these setbacks one can, nonetheless, feel a sense of inevitability about a bright future for regulated internet casino and poker. In all honesty, what is not to like? Regulation will bring additional tax revenue and root out the still existing black market. In addition, as ever, regulation will give us a far better chance of helping customers that might find themselves on the slippery slope towards gambling addiction. 

It will not happen tomorrow; it will not happen during this football season but believe you me it will happen. It is pretty much happening already.