With Monday's Supreme Court ruling that struck down PASPA, clearing the way for states to legalize sports betting, a natural question that followed was how other skill-heavy forms of gambling -- namely poker -- might be affected.
Online poker has its roots as far back as 1998, with Planet Poker offering the first real money online games in the United States. In 2003, Chris Moneymaker won his way into the World Series of Poker via an online satellite tournament, won the tournament and caused an explosion of popularity in both online and live poker. In October 2006, the uncertain legal status of online poker in the United States was defined by the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), which caused a number of companies to exit the market.
Companies like PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker continued to serve U.S. players until April 15, 2011 -- a day that's come to be known as "Black Friday" -- when PokerStars, Full Tilt, Ultimate Bet and Absolute Poker were shut down. From that point in time forward, there have been only a few small steps towards re-establishing online poker in the United States.
Is the Supreme Court ruling a big step forward in that effort? Well ... it's complicated.
How does the Supreme Court decision on PASPA directly affect online poker's legality in the United States?
To keep it simple, there is no direct correlation between the striking down of PASPA and the legality of online poker in the United States. A 2011 Department of Justice interpretation of the Wire Act, one of the key potential sticking points for online gambling, specifically points to its regulations only referring to sports betting.
That clarification opened up the possibility of states passing legislation to allow for online gambling -- but to date, progress in online poker legislation and online gambling in general has been slow. There is a growing belief, however, that states that press forward with legislation in the future will skew more towards online gambling legislation, rather than individual types of gambling.
Where and how can you currently play online poker in the United States?
Three different states have fully operational, fully legal online poker platforms -- Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware. After years of operating separately, Nevada and Delaware signed the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement in March 2015, which allowed for the pooling of players from both states. New Jersey joined MSIGA in October 2017, and on April 30, players on WSOP.com and 888 Poker from all three states were officially merged together.
To date, New Jersey, the largest individual market offering online poker, has made over $114 million from online poker and over $814 million from online gaming in total since launching in November 2013, according to PlayNJ.com.
A fourth state, Pennsylvania, signed online gambling legislation into law in October 2017 with online poker as part of that package. There is neither an official launch date nor a list of providers to date, but online gambling appears to be on track for late 2018. It is likely that Pennsylvania could join the MSIGA and further expand the multi-state player pool.
Players don't need to be residents of these states to play online poker -- they simply need to be located within the borders of one of those states to log on and play. With the 2018 World Series of Poker on the horizon, online poker players in New Jersey have the chance to play in four different official gold bracelet events.
How could online poker become more widely available in the United States?
One of the ways the fall of PASPA could help online poker is through piggybacking on sports betting and other gambling legislation as states look to join the likes of New Jersey and others in offering sports betting.
A push to limit the influence of offshore, unregulated sports betting platforms would be paralleled by a similar move to push any remaining unregulated online poker platforms out of the picture.
"Today marks an important date for the future of gaming in the United States," said Rich Muny, president of the Poker Players Alliance, on the day PASPA was struck down. "The future of sports betting will continue to rely on internet and mobile technologies, and this is also true for all gaming. Now more than ever, states should take control of unregulated internet poker and sports betting and create systems that protect adult consumers and provide governments with new streams of revenue."
Which states are likeliest to pass online poker legislation?
Outside of the four states that have passed online poker legislation, a handful of other states have considered or made pushes towards making online poker a reality. New York appears to be the likeliest to make such legislation a reality in 2018. Online poker bills have passed through the State Senate in each of the last two years, only to get hung up in the State Assembly. With Senator John Bonacic, the leading force in online poker, daily fantasy sports and sports betting legislation, set to retire this year, the impetus for such a bill to get done by the end of the calendar year is high, according to Online Poker Report.
Connecticut discussed online gambling and sports betting legislation, with support from both of the state's gaming-eligible tribes -- Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan -- but failed to come to a formal agreement during the 2018 legislative session. When news of the Supreme Court ruling broke on Monday, Governor Dannel P. Malloy said he was prepared to call the General Assembly into special session.
Michigan has an online gambling bill H4926 floating around, the latest in a long line of attempts to pass such legislation in the state, but the struggle to find the middle ground between Michigan gaming tribes and commercial casinos remains the biggest roadblock. California, which has dealt with similar issues since online poker was first put on the table in 2007, will not have a specific online poker bill introduced in 2018. With hopes of sports betting in 2019, however, the issues could be packaged together.
Is federal online poker legislation a realistic possibility?
Federal online poker legislation and a return to a 50-state player pool, or something close, is highly unlikely at this point. Sen. Orrin Hatch's announcement of his intentions to introduce federal legislation of sports betting leaves the door for other forms of gambling, including poker, open a crack -- especially without any foreknowledge of the language such legislation would include.