The Democratization of Gambling

It is no secret to anyone that gambling is in the midst of a dynamic expansion phase in the United States. In the last few years, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Massachusetts, Maine, Kansas, Kentucky, New York, Ohio and Illinois have expanded their gaming capacity and options. Louisiana, Iowa, Mississippi and Nevada have each added at least one major new casino property. Rhode Island, Georgia, Florida and Connecticut are currently debating the issue. The country is at the tail end of a 25-year expansion; there are not many unexplored options remaining. But that does not mean the expansion is over.

There are several emerging trends that promise to continue the expansion, indeed to take it into nearly every corner of the country, except possibly Utah. One of the trends is historical racing machines. The machines are devices that allow players to place bets on previously run horse races; the devices may not be slot machines, but each new generation of the games gets closer. The concept is appealing to racetracks in states that do not allow slot machines or casinos at the tracks. The most visible of those states is Kentucky. The state now has nearly 2000 games with more being added monthly.

The second trend is not new, but it is evolving; lotteries are expanding into new states and adding new linked systems. The recent $900 million Powerball jackpot raised the level of visibility of lotteries to an all time high. It has been a catalyst for lottery legislation in Mississippi, Hawaii, Alaska and Alabama; even Nevada is seeing a renewed interest. In my opinion, lottery legislation in Nevada might have a chance. The citizens of the non-lottery states are demanding the right to buy a ticket for Powerball and Mega Millions. Those two multi-state, linked systems are in fact national lotteries and their appeal is getting harder and harder to ignore. Besides those two games, there is a third linked system that now has 19 states signed up for “Win for Life.” It does not generate the immense jackpots, but it does create a perception of being more achievable; in its first year it has expanded from two states to nineteen. The popularity and media attention Powerball got, created a publicity campaign that no other form of gaming can match. Well, maybe.

The third trend is a blend of three things, poker, sports and the internet. It too, is not necessarily a new trend. But it had stalled; after Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware legalized some form of internet gambling, it lost its momentum. However, fantasy sports has given internet gambling a major jolt of energy. DraftKings and FanDuel were the catalyst; the two companies picked the beginning of the 2015-16 professional football season to come out of the closet. With the first games of the year, it became clear that fantasy sports is big business, very big business. The two companies spent upwards of $30 million a week on television advertising.

The advertising campaign got the attention of the nation’s sports fans, gaming regulators and attorney generals everywhere. The fans want to play, the regulators to control and some attorney generals to stop fantasy sports in its tracks. The outcome is still touch and go. Illinois, Texas and New York have taken a hard line. Nevada is insisting on licensing, but Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska and others are willing to think about the issue. Legislation to license, control and tax fantasy sports is becoming common. Much of that legislation stands a very good chance of being passed. In that case, fantasy sports will be just another option on the nation’s gambling menu. There are lotteries, racetracks, casinos, slot machines, charitable bingo and pull tabs spread randomly around the country; why not a little poker and sports online?

If Hawaii, Alaska and Alabama authorize a lottery, there will be only one state – Utah – without any form of gambling. With the legalization of lotteries in those states, the entire country will have has gone from forbidding any form of gambling to authorizing at least one form over the course of a hundred years. For the health of our society, it might not be a good idea; too much gambling might bring many social problems. Whatever the problems maybe, I don’t think they will impact the trend. There are two things have driven the expansion of gaming for the last hundred years. Increasingly gambling has become acceptable to the general population and there is a never-ending need by individual states for more revenue. Slowly, but surely those two forces have pushed gambling’s expansion. Powerball and fantasy sports accelerated the process dramatically. They made gambling acceptable and democratized it. Isn’t buying a Powerball ticket my natural right?


1 Response to “The Democratization of Gambling”

  1. 1 Lynne Rosner January 28, 2016 at 6:20 am

    I think gambling and computers is one too many twists in a turk’s head knot for me to play well.

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January 2016
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