2020 is going to be a good year for legal online poker in the US. And it might be a great year, the breakthrough year that online poker advocates have dreamed about since the Department of Justice crackdown on April 15, 2011.
Following the launch of PokerStars in November 2019, Pennsylvania became the fourth state with legal online poker. And with more Pennsylvania online poker operators expected to join PokerStars, 2020 could be a good one for online poker players.
Two other states, West Virginia and Michigan, legalized online poker in 2019. Both states have expected launches in late 2020 or early 2021, with Michigan in particular providing a considerable boost.
The tenth most populous state in the country, Michigan, was a huge win for online gambling advocates. And coupled with the recent launch in Pennsylvania, the long-awaited “tipping point” that creates a wave of momentum for legal online poker across the country may become a reality.
The number of Americans with access to legal online poker in October 2019 stood at around 13 million. Pennsylvania doubled that number, and the expected launches in West Virginia and Michigan will add nearly 12 million more people to the tally.
The End of Wire Act “Opinions”
Another reason to be optimistic about 2020 is the possible resolution of the Wire Act.
With the New Hampshire Lottery vs. Department of Justice case moving through the court system, the confusion surrounding the Wire Act’s application to online poker could soon be decided once and for all.
Two things will occur if the Wire Act is favorably resolved:
- Lawmakers in states that are interested in online gambling will no longer be able to take a wait-and-see approach.
- Any concerns about the legality of interstate online poker agreements can be put to rest.
Where Is Online Poker Legal?
Online poker is legal in the following places:
- Nevada (launched April 2013)
- Delaware (Launched October 2013)
- New Jersey (Launched November 2013)
- Pennsylvania (Launched November 2019)
- West Virginia
*Arkansas provides an interesting case where legislation allows the state to authorize online poker, but that authorization has not yet been given, although it is written into the state’s regulations.
Which States Could Legalize Online Poker in 2020?
Whether it’s an “if we do one, we might as well do the other,” or online poker/casino getting legalized after the fact, the spread of sports betting has been helpful to online poker and casino. There’s no reason to assume that won’t continue in 2020.
BettingUSA.com has identified five states to keep an eye on in the new year.
Virginia has been toying with casino expansions for several years, but the state has never been able to seal the deal. Last year things got a bit more serious when sports betting and online gambling were also added to the mix.
The Virginia legislature passed the gaming expansion legislation but did so with an important caveat: the package had to be reauthorized by the legislature in 2020, after a research study, to take effect.
The study was submitted, but other measures have since been presented, so it’s unclear what package (if any) the legislature will consider this year.
Connecticut seems like a slam dunk state for sports betting and online gambling, but the Nutmeg State is dealing with a smorgasbord of other gaming issues that have slowed these efforts down.
From a stalled tribal casino in the northwestern part of the state to opening the state to commercial operators to debates and threats should non-tribal entities be granted the authority to offer sports betting, Connecticut has a lot to deal with.
That said, reporting indicates that the state was closer than most people realize in 2019.
As issues resolve, and with New Hampshire joining the ranks of sports betting states, expect Connecticut to continue to try to work out a deal with the state on sports betting and online casino and poker.
Massachusetts is a perennial contender to pass online gambling legislation. That means the state never gets it done. But here’s why 2020 could be different.
Massachusetts finds itself surrounded by online sports betting states, and as the home base of DraftKings, it will have little choice but to act. Like it has in other states, there’s a good chance online poker and casino get added to the mix.
A second reason is the benchmark in a 2017 report that concluded Massachusetts should wait until the MGM Springfield and Encore Boston Harbor casinos are open before considering online gambling has been reached.
Both resort casinos are up and running, and helping matters is the anti-online gambling Steve Wynn is no longer at the helm of Wynn Resorts. It’s unclear what the company’s new policy towards online gambling is, but it’s already a player in some markets, and Penn National (which operates Plainridge Park Casino) and MGM are advocates of online gambling.
New York is always included in candidate lists for online poker. Yet, despite passing several online poker bills out of the Senate, and legalizing daily fantasy sports, the Empire State continues to frustrate with its inability to legalize online poker.
As we saw during the DFS debates, the New York legislature seems incapable of doing two things at once, so 2020 will likely see online poker pushed aside as sports betting is discussed. However, we’re not writing New York off just yet. If a sports betting compromise can’t be reached, online poker could make an appearance as a bargaining chip, perhaps finding some common ground between the state’s tribal and commercial casino operators.
Like Virginia, Kentucky is another longtime gambling holdout that suddenly jumped into the conversation in 2019. Fueled by sports betting, DFS and online gambling were also discussed last year, and expected to be part of talks in 2020.
Kentucky also landed a pro-gambling-expansion governor during the 2019 off-year elections. Gaming was a focal point of the race, and the pro-expansion Andy Beshear triumphed over incumbent Matt Bevin.
As noted in our election coverage, that sends Beshear to the governor’s mansion with something of a mandate to expand gambling in the Bluegrass State.