- Many gamblers find US casino laws confusing as they differ by state
- Only four states allow online gambling
- The US needs government reform if it wants to benefit from the global growth of online gambling
- It could learn from the UK, where online casinos flourish despite heavy regulation
- The US may be on the road to a relaxation in laws prohibiting online gambling
There’s a reason why America has the most powerful economy in the world. From the biggest service industry in the planet to hotbeds for tech companies like San Francisco and New York, doing business in the US is a golden opportunity for both domestic and international organisations.
But no matter how powerful and developed its economy is, there’s plenty of room for improvement. America is famous for embracing certain industries – like finance, fashion and entertainment – and playing to their strengths. However, others, as we’ll discuss, it ignores – even if there’s a chance to make some money. Despite years of negative growth in America’s manufacturing industries and a few recessions, however, the US always manages to come out smelling of roses.
One industry that the US does in its own special way is gambling. The laws are a weird mish-mash of rules that differ from state to state, with certain states (Nevada and New Jersey) completely relaxed when it comes to gaming, and others that point blank refuse to allow gambling in any shape of form beyond lottery tickets, such as Utah. In the middle of this weird, fragmented industry is the crown jewel of Las Vegas, once the busiest and most profitable betting and gaming destination on earth before Macau came along.
An outdated governance system
The confusion around gambling in the US is that it is still dictated by old laws. For example, the law that prevents online gambling from taking place in certain states is covered by the law that prevented organised crime groups like the Mafia from taking bets over the telephone. But in the same step, states are free to offer online gambling if a motion is passed to allow it, creating something of a grey area in the law between state and national governments. This is exactly the sort of industry where America could really take something away from other territories around the world, and create something that could end up being much more profitable and sustainable in the long run.
Online gaming in America is pretty restricted. Only four states currently allow access online, and even then, the options are severely limited. Gamers in other states can access these sites (and even international sites with things like VPN software or use of remote servers) but again there’s a grey area in that the casino can be prosecuted for providing a service to someone in an area where online gaming is prohibited.
How much longer will the US ignore the potential of online gambling?
In the UK, gambling isn’t exactly a new concept, but the last couple of decades have shaped an industry that is both strictly controlled but also extremely profitable. The government sets out inflexible rules that aim to keep the industry free from the problems often associated with casinos and gambling, including problem addiction and ties to criminal enterprises, but there’s enough scope and freedom for a gambling experience that isn’t too prohibitive for those who want to enjoy themselves or run an ethical organisation.
The real attractive takeaway for the US, however, is the money involved in the UK market. Let’s look at the figures – the total gross gambling yield between October 2016 and September 2017 was £13.9 billion, creating over 100,000 jobs. In comparison to the US, a country that has almost five times as many people as the UK, this figure is pretty high in comparison to the $73 billion collected by US casinos, but the fact that the UK’s online industry is worth more than a quarter than that of the US is a real talking point.
Better for players
Online gambling in the UK has been a true success story, sweeping up over a third of the entire market share over just two decades. This also covers sports betting and things like online bingo, but the opportunity that this growth has provided has seen start-ups turn into FTSE listed organisations that contribute plenty of employment and tax pounds.
But how have online casinos been able to grab so much market share? In short, by offering a better experience to players. Players not only have the chance to play their favourite games – including blackjack, poker and roulette – from the comfort of their own home, they can also play on the move, through their mobile devices. On top of that, the live casino offering by many casinos has bridged the gap between the virtual and physical playing experience, by hooking players up to real-life dealers and competitors to make the experience even more personal and human.
The UK’s gambling industry has been a huge success. It’s concrete proof that a properly managed online industry can open up a huge new revenue stream in the US, especially in areas where visiting a casino involves a long journey or is prohibitively expensive (Las Vegas, we’re looking at you).
Changes already underway
The US looks like it’s firmly on the road to a more relaxed approach. Naturally, Las Vegas is yet again acting as a trailblazing town for a revolution, but this time the focus is on sports betting. As well as new Ice Hockey, Soccer and Baseball franchises, all with close deals to local bookies, the consensus is that US sports betting is going to become more prevalent nationwide, with plenty of support from teams, famous faces, and even ruling bodies like MLB.
It seems that all parties are beginning to see the benefits of the advertising opportunities that are now a common sight in sports leagues in Europe, and the links that can be made between gambling companies and sports teams and even leagues to open up new revenue streams. With a fully-fledged online industry nationwide, then the income from bets placed just in Nevada could easily explode if the whole country gets on board with a more accessible online offering.
It’s no secret that President Trump was once a casino magnate, and he has many links in the industry – indeed, land-based casino magnate Sheldon Adelson is one of his biggest campaign donors. But could his connections with Adelson mean reform is less likely? It remains to be seen. The president may have his diary filled with peace negotiations with North Korea, several lawsuits and ever-tightening immigration controls, so it might be a while before gambling reform gets onto his agenda.
For now, it seems that gamblers in the US just need to hold tight. With sweeping changes in sports gambling on the way, and more states opening their ears to the potential income that could emerge from new forms of gambling that don’t require the construction of casinos, then it’s more a question of ‘when’ than ‘if’ for the US to begin adopting practices that have created huge amounts of success in other parts of the world.