Industry Group Pushing for Legal Online Gambling as COVID-19 Shuts Down US Casinos

  • iDEA is calling on states to lift restrictions on internet betting
  • Offering could give casinos a revenue boost while establishments are closed
  • National Council on Problem Gambling does not want hasty legalization
  • 92 percent of U.S. casinos are currently shut down due to the coronavirus
Grand Casino in Hinckley, Minnesota displaying sign saying it is temporarily closed
The iDevelopment & Economic Association (iDEA) has been urging U.S. state governments to legalize online gambling to help casinos during the coronavirus shutdown. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Looking for paths to fast legalization

U.S. online gaming advocacy group iDevelopment & Economic Association (iDEA) is calling on the country’s states to allow people to gamble online. This comes as most of the U.S. enters its second official week in semi-quarantine to slow the spread of COVID-19, with the vast majority of casino employees now out of work.

According to The Wall Street Journal, iDEA is “pushing” states to lift restrictions on internet betting so that at least some of the revenue that is being lost daily can be sourced from online games. The group has presented an option of gubernatorial emergency powers to quickly legalize online gambling so that sites can get up and running as soon as possible.

it underscores the need for the industry to also have an e-commerce platform.”

“Is it going to be a panacea?” said iDEA’s John Pappas, who also once served as the Executive Director of the Poker Players’ Alliance (now the Poker Alliance). “No. But in the face of closures like this, it underscores the need for the industry to also have an e-commerce platform.”

Yaniv Sherman, head of commercial development at 888 Holdings, said he thinks “big” casino operators who recently expressed their reluctance to him about online gambling will soon change their tune.

“The gaming industry is coming out on the other side a completely changed industry from where they are right now,” he added.

Problem gambling group wary

Not everyone is on board with the swift legalization of internet gaming. “To use emergency powers to legalize something that has known harm for a portion of its users would be incredibly bad policy,” Keith Whyte, executive director of National Council on Problem Gambling, told The Wall Street Journal.

concern about giving people easy access to gambling, particularly as they spend more time at home

Whyte wants any possible gambling legalization to be debated and to go through the proper legislative process. He expressed concern about giving people easy access to gambling, particularly as they spend more time at home.

The gambling industry in the U.S. has historically encouraged regulation, and Pappas said the current situation would be no different. As Americans have access to legal, regulated gaming options, they will be less likely to gamble at offshore sites with no state or federal government oversight.

Near-total shutdown of U.S. casinos

Almost every casino in the United States has closed because of the coronavirus. The Las Vegas Review-Journal pegs the number at 910 closures, or 92 percent of the nation’s casinos.

According to the American Gaming Association, 642,000 people are affected by the shutdown, most of them casino employees. Most would not be directly helped by rapid online gambling legalization and the launch of gaming sites, but it is possible some could be hired. If sites did go live and provide some revenue to casinos, that could potentially give them more resources to hire people back once the casinos reopen or provide benefits during furloughs.

Most of the gambling establishments that remain open are on tribal land. The few commercial casinos that are still operating are in Deadwood, South Dakota and Florida.