The Global Gaming Expo (G2E) continues to gin up expectations that America will finally take the plunge and legalize online poker this year. At a keynote address on Wednesday, MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren said the time for talking about online poker was over and (wait for it) “the time for action is now.” (Bet you didn’t see that coming, huh?) In case his company’s funding of grassroots/Astroturf lobby group FairPlayUSA hadn’t already made his position clear, Murren backed the American Gaming Association’s call for a federal, rather than state-by-state online poker system. Murren also dismissed suggestions that US land-based casinos would be negatively impacted by the arrival of legal online poker.
Such fears would appear to be in the minority. At the (first-ever) all-female State of the Industry keynote, Caesars Entertainment’s Jan Jones said online gambling represented the casino industry’s single most important expansion opportunity. Isle of Capri Casinos’ Virginia McDowell warned that land-based companies needed to develop strategies to integrate the brick-and-mortar experience with online play. IGT‘s Patti Hart claimed online poker could only increase traffic to land-based casinos. “Technology is begging for us to reach consumers we are not reaching today.” Hear that? Begging.
Clearly, there’s a lot at stake. The statisticians at H2 Gambling Capital helpfully broke down the estimated annual value of the US online poker market from a state-by-state perspective. California is way out in front with $2.3b, followed by Texas and New York ($1.1b each), Florida ($1b), Illinois ($700m), Pennsylvania ($660m), Massachusetts and Ohio ($500m each), New Jersey and Michigan ($490m each) and the remaining states averaging around $200m.
Of course, to our way of thinking (and Las Vegas Sands president Michael Leven concurs), such figures just give whale states like California all the more incentive to go it alone via the intrastate route. Also pessimistic about federal legislation’s chances is Richard Bronson, chairman of US Digital Gaming, which, admittedly, has put all its eggs into the intrastate basket. “There hasn’t been a bill passed since January. So there really isn’t a chance of getting a bill passed that will allow gambling in every home in the US.”
Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nv) is expected to provide much of the momentum behind any new federal push, but a recent piece of sad news may complicate the situation. It was announced last week that Reid’s wife Landra, to whom he’s been married for 52 years, had been diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer and will undergo treatment, including chemotherapy, in Washington. Reid’s staff stressed that the veteran Senate majority leader’s work would not be affected, but it’s easy to imagine that online poker looks pretty insignificant to Reid at the moment. Our fervent wishes for a positive outcome go out to the entire Reid family.