Sports betting fever is gripping the nation. But not everyone is unabashedly thrilled with the way legal sports betting is rapidly spreading across the country.
One group that begrudges sports betting’s success is online poker players. Online poker players have the right to feel left out. The time and energy spent on multiyear legalization efforts are being pushed to the side in favor of sports betting.
That said, online poker advocates have reasons to cheer. Sports betting has quietly helped online poker in a couple of states.
Six States Have Passed Laws Legalizing Online Poker
The number six might come as a surprise to many readers, as most people are aware that four states have legalized online poker.
But there’s also a sixth state: Arkansas.
Wait, When Did Arkansas Legalize Online Poker?
Arkansas covertly legalized online poker when it legalized four casinos and sports betting in a statewide referendum last November. That development is all the more surprising considering a strict reading of the regulations released in February seems to prohibit online sports betting.
“Remote / Off premises wagers prohibited. Licensees/books shall not accept wagers from any person who is not physically present on the Licensee’s / franchise holder’s premises.”
Yet the same regulations include provisions for the authorization of online poker in Rule 5: Operation of Interactive Gaming (online poker regulations begin on page 77).
Of course, Arkansas authorizing online poker is a separate matter. The important thing to note here is that it can be authorized.
Online Poker’s Future In the US
A recent Twitter discussion instigated by Rob Yong created a lot of (varied) speculation about the prospects of online poker in the US.
Please help me get a decent view by RT to US Players : I plan on taking a very small peak at the US online poker market – out of interest – do YOU think online poker will be legal [definition of legal = > 80% + of states sharing their liquidity) in…
— Rob Yong (@rob_yong_) September 11, 2019
The common theme throughout the responses was an underestimation of how many states have legalized online poker, while the poll results indicate an overestimation of the pace of future legalization.
As Chris Grove put it:
I don’t want to say never but the horizon is definitely more than 10 years.
There is not really any state of material population that is seriously considering online poker.
— Chris Grove (@OPReport) September 14, 2019
That said, the US is in fairly good shape and approaching a point where it will have a large enough pool of players to support a thriving online poker industry.
With West Virginia and Arkansas, the number of US residents living in a state that has, or will have access to legal online poker exceeds 30 million.
That puts the US on a path to 50-80 million residents with access in the coming years.
It seems like Michigan and Illinois are towards the top of favorites to be next. Get those two plus Pennsylvania open and you've got your 50 million population. That's probably enough to make it viable and maybe start a snowball.
— John Mehaffey (@John_Mehaffey) September 12, 2019
Where Else Could You See Legal Online Poker?
Multiple states have stepped into the batter’s box and taken a few swings at legalizing online poker over the years. Some have even come close to passing an online poker bill.
But as Arkansas and West Virginia demonstrated, there are a lot of sleeper states out there.
A slow grind across the country isn’t what online poker players are hoping for, but a scenario where a quarter of the nation is capable of playing legal online poker in 2021 would have been incomprehensible back in 2011 when Black Friday upended the US online poker industry.
Poker players in 2019 see the current state of things as a failure, but poker players in 2011 would have been quite happy to learn that six states and counting have legal online poker options.