If anything is at all clear about the 2020 election season, it’s that the political event of the century has significant ramifications for the US gambling industry in both the near-term and long-term futures.
We already covered the longer-haul impact of the election insofar as the states that passed new gambling ballot measures.
These five states – Colorado, Louisiana, Maryland, Nebraska, and South Dakota – all expanded gambling in one way or another, and several of them have potentially opened the door to online sports betting and online casino gaming, or iGaming.
While none of these measures individually guarantees an 18+ mobile betting component for the broader markets in the states in question, online access is the logical conclusion.
And while iGaming – when legalized – will almost certainly be limited to those aged 21 and up, 18+ gamblers can bank on greater access to various Class II-type games and domestic sports betting opportunities in these (and other) states.
Indeed, in about half of the states that offer legal local sportsbooks, players aged 18 and older are allowed to access these venues – whether in-person or online – to bet on their favorite players and teams.
But online gambling – across all markets – might actually happen sooner rather than later, and some states could even lower their gambling ages to 18 and up.
We suggest this reality precisely because of recent developments having to do with the coronavirus and the strong possibility of a Joe Biden presidency.
Should Biden win the contested 2020 Presidential election as expected, there is little question that the new administration will institute wide-reaching lockdowns on brick-and-mortar casinos.
After all, these businesses are not deemed “essential” in the US, which means that they’ll be the first outlets to be boarded back up when new quarantines hit.
To be sure, Biden’s coronavirus advisors are currently arguing against a full national lockdown.
On CNBC’s “Squawk Box” program, Dr. Celine Grounder – one of the medical experts on Biden’s transition team – had this to say:
“As a group, really the consensus is that we need a more nuanced approach [to any lockdowns]… We can be much more targeted geographically. We can also be more targeted in terms of what we close.”
This means, among various other types of businesses, physical land-based casinos.
And you can take that to the bank.
Already decimated by a disastrous 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, retail gambling operations in the US posted unprecedented losses nationwide.
Indeed, the only operators that were able to stop the bleeding in any meaningful way were those which are legally allowed to offer online sports betting and iGaming to their in-state clientele.
Whereas Nevada casinos saw revenues drop by over 90 percent year over year, casinos in New Jersey and Pennsylvania – where both online sports betting and online casino play are legal – saw declines closer to 40 percent, if that.
The writing is clearly on the wall when it comes to the durability – and the resiliency – of online gambling versus in-person gambling.
And that’s obvious: If you can only gamble in-person and your casino or sportsbook closes its doors, then you can’t gamble. On the other hand, if your operator is empowered to provide online gambling, you still have a place to play.
Unfortunately, news of a “second wave” of COVID-19 is already hitting the wire. And since Las Vegas casinos reopened at limited capacities in June, more than 700 visitors to these gaming venues have tested positive for the virus.
While these are small numbers given the sheer volume of people that have visited Nevada since the area’s casinos reopened (5.7 million), it’s still enough to cause state regulators – particularly with federal guidance or encouragement – to shut down operations yet again.
Additionally, that number is unrealistically low because NV only reports such positive tests if the visitors themselves inform the state (in the event that they test positive for the virus in another state after returning home).
Of course, if you’re under 21 years old and are aware of US gambling laws and the general legal landscape surrounding the industry, none of this likely matters.
Chances are, you already play at a reputable 18+ online casino or 18 and over online sportsbook that operates outside of US jurisdiction and is not beholden to US online gambling restrictions.
These sites are legal and safe to use, and millions of American gamblers log in, bet, and win real money every day.
However, if you’re holding out hope for a return to normalcy in the US brick-and-mortar casino industry, that looks like it’s going to take some time.
And like any other businesses, the big resort venues that drive the retail gambling market in America can’t afford to be handcuffed forever.
Eventually, even those operators who oppose online iGaming will be forced to embrace it, because it’s literally the only thing that can save them from another fiscal year from hell.
Ironically, the same scenario is playing out in the Philippines, where Metro Manila casinos have been largely closed all year.
Lawmakers in the islands were reticent to expand online gambling to locals, but due to the extreme tax revenue losses suffered as a result of COVID-19, they are rethinking this position and seem poised to institute legislation legalizing the practice.
Notably, this initiative is being led by casino operators and stakeholders in the country who previously opposed online gambling expansion.
It would not be at all surprising if America follows the Philippines’ lead in this.
What would be surprising, however, is if US states continue looking the other way when it comes to legalizing online gambling.
It’s literally the coronavirus vaccine for the gambling industry.
Here’s hoping the cure is just around the corner.