Nevada expects to have a regulatory framework in place by next month to allow Gov. Brian Sandoval to negotiate compacts with other states that would add their residents to the Silver State’s nascent online poker pool.
It’s an important first step in a complex process since it’s not certain how such networks would cross state lines, whether laws have to change in some states, or possibly constitutions amended, or which will be able to join through various forms of executive action.
Gaming Commissioner John Moran, an experienced hand in negotiating with other states on Colorado River rights, is in charge of developing the rules, and Sandoval says he’s already had conversations with his counterparts in other states. “They’re interested,” as he recently told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
One of them is New Jersey’s Chris Christie, according to MGM Resorts International boss James Murren, who says a deal between the two on sharing players is “likely” to happen in 2014.
But that’s not certain either since it implies that Nevada’s Legislature doesn’t need to be involved. Clark County Senator Tick Segerblom, who heads the Judiciary Committee in the upper house, has said he believes it does.
He’s suggested congressional approval might be required as well. This could be obtained separately from efforts to establish a federal regulatory framework for online gambling, which to date have gone nowhere.
The market this is capable of supporting is difficult to gauge as there is only one operator at present, Station Casinos’ majority-owned Ultimate Poker, and they’re not saying. The site opened for business on 30 April and reportedly dealt 1 million hands in its first two weeks. Sandoval has described it as doing “extremely well”. Poker revenue statewide peaked in 2007 at $168 million but has been on the decline, down 21 percent the last five years, and the number of tables has dropped by 12 percent over the same period. The sector shows signs of picking up this year, however, no doubt reflecting the impact of the online game.
It’s a big issue for the major Strip operators, which so far have remained on the sidelines—like MGM, which is approved for online in Nevada and is awaiting a license in New Jersey at The Borgata in partnership with bwin.party.
The issue is a big one for tiny Delaware also, the only other state regulating internet gambling. The three casinos there began offering free play this month ahead of a real-money launch that is believed to be imminent. But absent a cross-state network to tap into, they’ll be marketing their table games and slots to a resident population numbering less than 950,000.
“New Jersey is currently focused on working with its existing casinos to attain successful Internet gaming opportunities in this state,” said David Rebuck, director of the Division of Gaming Enforcement, although he added that he expects “future opportunities for growth and development with other jurisdictions.”