The status quo in the US is an odd one. Gambling is one of the country’s most popular pastime, with $450 billion spent in 2016 on everything from casino gaming to sports betting. Gambling isn’t seen as being such as vice that it once was, and there is now more dialogue then ever surrounding the future of the industry. Involving some of the biggest organisations in the US as well as congress and the White House, the battle between supporters of fully legalised gambling and its opponents could be about to turn another corner.
The current situation
Currently, gambling is regulated at state level, so each individual local government has its own stance on the legality and availability of casinos, racetracks, or licensed bookmakers. The differences between states can be gigantic, with Nevada, which is of course home to Las Vegas, far more laissez-faire about gaming compared to a state like Utah which enforces a strict ban on all forms of gambling. Other states often pick and choose which forms of gambling are allowed, with establishments like racetracks or hotel casinos allowed, or state lotteries used to generate taxes sometimes allowed to operate.
There are also tribal casinos located in states that don’t allow commercial casinos, thanks to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, which decreed that officially recognised tribal groups may operate casinos on their ancestral lands, as a way of supporting their economies. This can create gambling havens in states that otherwise don’t allow gambling of other forms.
Then there’s sports betting. Back in the 1960s, gambling on sports was pretty much run by various criminal organisations all over America, notably the Mafia. As it was often difficult to run an illegal bookmakers that could be raided and closed, sports betting went underground and bets were often made over the phone. The Federal Wire Act made bets made by telephone, telegraph or similar illegal at a national level. This has still created a grey area, as online gambling technically takes place via a telephone line in most cases but is fully legal in four states
This situation is often convoluted, unpoliced in certain cases and ultimately confusing. Just googling ‘can I gamble in my state?’ throws up forums full of confused gamblers, old wives tales and opinionated locals who are likely getting the facts wrong. The tendency seems to be that local governments have an official stance on gambling, but there are sometimes no concrete rights or wrongs. For example, a game of poker held at home with friends may be seen as a bit of fun in some states, or totally illegal and punishable in others. Having a single approach across the country would eliminate these cases of confusion and concern, with crystal clear rules about what is acceptable making things much easier for both gamblers and lawmakers.
The huge opportunities
Unless you’re unlucky, inexperienced, or Donald Trump, casinos are one of the easiest ways to make money, especially in a country where people need to travel to a particular destination like Vegas or Atlantic City before they can enjoy some gambling. Some of the casinos in Las Vegas are truly mind-blowing, with no expenses spared and plenty of profit made on a daily basis. The huge benefit for the state of Nevada is not only the taxes that can be collected from these sprawling casinos, but the associated industries and jobs they create. Las Vegas has become way more than just a collection of casinos, with upwards of 400,000 jobs created by the bars, restaurants, hotels and businesses that support the 43 million visitors that flock to the city every year.
There are already some examples of how casinos can begin transforming areas with improved employment and tax revenue. Detroit has been struggling for a long time thanks to the collapse of the automotive industry, eventually declaring bankruptcy. To try and kick some life back into the failing city centre, 3 casinos were built and now the state of Michigan collects hundreds of millions in tax revenue.
One form of gambling that is performing extremely well in other territories around the world is online gambling. Currently, only New Jersey, Delaware, Nevada and Pennsylvania have unrestricted access to online gambling, but it is still quite easy to access online gambling services via proxies or VPNs. In the UK, which has a population less than a quarter of the US, online gambling has created a £4.5 billion industry that accounts for over a third of all gambling revenues. If the uptake was similar in the US, then tax revenues collected from online gambling could easily generate billions of dollars of extra public funding.
The growth of online games has seen bingo have a resurgence in recent years; Wink Bingo have taken bingo in its simplest form, and transformed it into an incredible, realistic player experience – with interesting games, lively communities and big jackpots to be won. The brand has gone from strength to strength, partly because of its continued innovation at the cutting edge of game design – but also because of a spike in online use. Players enjoy being able to play bingo online from the comfort of their own home, or if they’re on the move. While bingo has always been popular in the UK, the game actually saw a dip in popularity at the start of the 21st century, with many bingo halls closing as a result. But Wink Bingo’s rise in popularity has also led more young internet users towards a game they otherwise might not have played. The brand has also been able to thrive because of the relaxed regulations by the UK’s tough but fair gambling network.
How does Trump fit in?
President Donald Trump has a background in the casino industry, so casinos, gamblers and local authorities are waiting with baited breath to see how his policies will affect gaming laws. Trump basically transformed Atlantic City back in the 1980s, building several casinos with funds raised from junk bonds. The success of those casinos is questionable, but the fact still stands that the president knows first-hand the kind of revenue that can be generated from casinos.
However, we are still without a solid stance almost a year into his tenure, with the odd mixture of rules and regulations still remaining. With an escalating situation with North Korea and plenty of enemies trying to dig deeper into the influence of Russia on the election, it seems that Trump has bigger fish to fry so we may have a wait before we hear more about fully legalised gambling.
It’s likely that we’ll hear soon however. Sports gambling, which is still an underground industry across many parts of the country, is worth an estimated $700 billion, a figure that can’t be ignored forever. The big swing is that each of the main sports in the US are now talking about gambling more than ever, breaking down the barriers put in place to distance sports teams from ties with organised crime. Las Vegas, where sports gambling is legal in licensed bookmakers, now hosts an NHL franchise, a professional baseball team and will soon have an NFL franchise. This is proving to both team owners and government that the appetite for sports gambling is there, with plenty of tax to be made from it too.
It isn’t all plain sailing in the US though. Gambling still has an image connected to it, and ultra-conservative governments in certain states will certainly dig their feet in when it comes to changes to gambling laws at a federal level. There will be plenty of time spent debating and deciding before we see any sweeping changes, so in the meantime you’ll need to stick to Vegas and Atlantic City trips.