Online Poker 2016: What Flew, What Grew, What Didn’t

Posted on January 2nd, 2017 by Jon Pineda
online poker 2016 PokerStars

PokerStars returning to the US through New Jersey was a bright spot in what was an otherwise ho-hum year in online poker. (Image: pokerstars.com)

Online poker in 2016 was much talk, and little action.

State politicians from Pennsylvania to California considered and labored over bills that would legalize internet casinos and poker, but 2016 ended with the same number of states with authorized online gambling: three.

Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware remain the only players in the internet gambling game. Many poker and gaming observers feel optimistic for the year ahead, but that enthusiasm was also present at this time 12 months ago.

2016 Recap

Online poker largely enjoyed a successful 2016 campaign in terms of finances.

It was a bountiful year in the Garden State, as revenues sprouted more than 10 percent compared to 2015. The growth came in response from the state welcoming PokerStars back to the United States for the first time since it was forced offline in 2011 by the Department of Justice.

After collecting $23.8 million in online rake in 2015, New Jersey operators pulled in upwards of $25 million this year.

In Delaware, internet poker wasn’t quite as robust as in New Jersey. But following a slow start to 2016, earnings turned for the better during the second half of the year.

Nevada stopped reporting poker rake and fee in February of 2015. Today, the World Series of Poker platform is the only internet room remaining with meaningful traffic.

Key(stone) State Folds

There was much speculation in 2016 that Pennsylvania would become the fourth state to legalize online gaming.

During the summer, the state’s House of Representatives passed HB 2150, an online gaming and daily fantasy sports bill. The 2016-2017 fiscal budget signed into law by Governor Tom Wolf (D) assumes $100 million in new tax revenue generated by the law’s implementation.

But the Senate failed to act, and gaming was shelved until the New Year.

California Dreaming

The gaming environment in California is complicated. Powerful Native American tribes, politicians in Sacramento, card club operators, and the horse racing industry all have their own individual wants and demands.

Assemblymen Adam Gray (D-District 21) and Reggie Jones-Sawyer’s (D-District 59) “Internet Poker Consumer Protection Act of 2016” seemed to satisfy most of those groups. The bill passed the Government Organization Committee and was headed for a floor vote.

But then certain Native American groups intervened. Some tribes supported the bill, while others opposed it due to concerns on whether PokerStars, a so-called “bad actor” for its illegal operations between 2006 and 2011, should be allowed in.

The year ended without a vote, and without cards in the air online. Efforts are expected to be renewed in Sacramento in the coming year.

Significant Others

Pennsylvania and California certainly weren’t the only two states that considered online gaming or internet poker. Lawmakers in Michigan and New York also introduced legislation to committees, but their efforts endured similar fates and never received a floor vote.

Massachusetts is the latest commonwealth to show interest in online gaming. The legislature there began studying the merits of internet gambling and the potential benefit to citizens in late October.

“It is one of those subject matters that seems to capture the attention of the public and public policymakers, and so we’re going to give it a pretty good look,” State Rep. Joseph Wagner (D-District 8 Hampden) said at the time.

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