Is Legal Online Poker coming to a state near you?

USA PokerLegal online poker is currently available in three US states, Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey, and it may soon be coming to a state near you thanks to the 2011 reversal of their interpretation of the Wire Act –after declaring the Wire Act applied to all forms of online gambling back in 2002, the DOJ now feels it only applies to sports-betting.

This new interpretation opened the door for states to pass online gambling legislation, and with the federal government unlikely to take action either way, it appears online gambling will be left up to each state for the time being, and likely in perpetuity as it’s hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube, or in this case tell New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware, “Sorry you spent millions in setting this up but we’re going to go ahead and ban this now.”

Armed with the DOJ’s new opinion, at least half a dozen states from California to Massachusetts have begun the process and are currently looking into online gambling expansion, especially when it comes to real money online poker.

Despite all of the expansion and expansion talk the general population is still largely unaware that online poker has returned to the United States and it has returned in a completely legal and regulated package.

Timeline of legal US poker

Following the reversal by the Justice Department in December of 2011 (an early Christmas present for the poker community), which saw the DOJ reinterpret the Wire Act’s application to Internet gambling, the key barrier to state’s passing online gambling laws was removed, and several locales jumped at the opportunity, beginning with Nevada.

In June 2011 Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval signed the online poker expansion bill passed earlier in the year by the state legislature, and with the DOJ’s new stance on the Wire Act, the Nevada Gaming Commission approved the bill and new regulations on the same day. Nevada (unsurprisingly) became the first state to pass an iGaming bill, and eventually the first state to launch a legal online gambling site.

As the first state in the US to pass an online gambling bill Nevada wanted to make sure they crossed all their t’s and dotted their i’s; Nevada had to get it right, and in order to get it right it meant they had to take slow.

The first licensed online poker room in the United States didn’t launch until April 30, 2013 (nearly two years after the bill’s passage) when Ultimate Poker went online, and in the process becoming the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question 20 years from now.

Thanks to the rigid regulatory process Nevada installed it took nearly six months for Ultimate Poker to see their first competitor launch, when in September of 2013 Caesar’s online poker room went online, and would move past UP in a matter of weeks.

Since then only one other online poker site has launched in Nevada, South Point’s Real Gaming, but plenty more have come online in Delaware and New Jersey during this period.

Delaware’s state-run online gambling industry launched in October of 2013 with New Jersey following suit just weeks later, when a dozen online gambling sites were brought online on November 21, 2013.

With a synchronized launch New Jersey’s iGaming industry has only added a few skins since the initial launch, and unlike Nevada, New Jersey doesn’t have license holders waiting for regulators’ approval to launch.

Who might be joining the triumvirate?

After successful, if unspectacular launches in Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey, talks have started heating up in several states across the country. California and Pennsylvania seem to be the closest, with both states still optimistically eying something in 2014, while several other states have also started the process of drafting up their own poker laws, including Massachusetts, New York, Mississippi, and Illinois.

Continued online poker expansion in the US seems inevitable at this point. A state passing an online poker bill in 2014 seems to be slipping further and further into the “wait until next year” category, but if it doesn’t occur this year it will almost certainly happen in 2015.

The most likely candidate is California, which would be the largest market in the country, and one of the largest in the world thanks to the state’s population of 38 million. However, the same thing that makes California such an appealing market (it’s size) has also been its undoing, as the numerous interests in the state have not been able to reach an agreement in the five+ years this issue has been on the table.

Another contender is Pennsylvania, which has started to move beyond what I call the “exploratory phase” and is now looking at the nuts and bolts issues of an online gambling bill.

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