The bottom line right now is there’s no reason to believe new interstate poker compacts allowing online poker play between players in Pennsylvania and other jurisdictions are imminent. However, what could have been a major obstacle to that ever happening is now out of the way.
The US Dept. of Justice (DOJ) let time expire on the window to appeal its loss in a lawsuit over federal gambling regulations. Thus, the matter is largely up to regulators in both states now. It doesn’t seem that either body is in any hurry to make this happen, though. At least for now.
Interstate poker compacts in PA, MI get a new lifeline
The lawsuit, which pit the New Hampshire Lottery and its vendor NeoPollard against the DOJ, had seen wins for the NH Lottery at every stage through the federal circuit courts. The department’s lone remaining option was an appeal to the US Supreme Court.
On Monday, the DOJ’s deadline to ask the highest court in the land to grant cert (review the lower court’s decision) passed. For that reason, the circuit court’s opinion is now the final matter on the subject. That subject is the federal government’s interpretation of the Federal Wire Act of 1961.
Through 2018, the DOJ interpreted the act’s ban on transmitting data and funds for gambling purposes across state lines solely applied to sports betting. In 2018, however, the department changed that opinion and deemed that ban to apply to all online gaming.
The lottery shortly thereafter filed its suit and the rest is now history. iDEA Growth attorney Jeff Ifrah explained that the DOJ decision to let the deadline pass without action “removes the risk of federal intervention” for states looking to legalize online gaming and form compacts with each other on that issue.
So, will Michigan and Pennsylvania do so now? It isn’t advisable to hold your breath.
Not in any hurry
According to Matt Schoch of PlayMichigan, the MI Gaming Control Board is reviewing possible terms for an online poker compact. An optimistic timeline for an agreement with other jurisdictions could be the end of this year. Regulators there won’t commit to an official timeline.
That doesn’t guarantee PA will be one of the jurisdictions Michigan partners with at the start. Delaware, Nevada, and New Jersey already have a multi-state agreement in place, so Michigan would presumably join that trio.
The last word out of the PA Gaming Control Board on the matter came before the DOJ decided to pass on its chance to appeal. Spokesperson Doug Harbach stated on May 4:
“It is still not clear whether the DOJ will pursue an appeal to the Supreme Court of the First Circuit decision regarding interstate gambling. Until there is some finality of the federal decision and whether there will be an appeal of that ruling, that stymies moving forward since a compact would involve a contract with other states and must adhere to federal law, and any agreement like this must be reviewed by other entities in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. So, it is not just a PGCB decision. Also, the poker operators need to agree to the provisions of any agreement.”
As Harbach stated, licensees have a part to play in this drama. Their biggest role might be in providing the necessary influence to move things along.
Could BetMGM, PokerStars, WSOP apply pressure?
Perhaps no one stands to benefit from interstate poker compacts more than shared licensees. WSOP.com, on its 888poker software, already pools players across NJ, NV and DE.
A WSOP launch in PA is inevitable. The company has announced similar plans in MI. As its platform already contains the infrastructure to allow for multi-jurisdiction play, it could be ready to “flip the switch” in both those states as soon as regulators allow.
The bigger pots (and prize pools) and the larger number of games and tournaments could produce more revenue for all the brands in a short time frame. Thus, the poker operators will probably be among the strongest proponents of compacting.
If they can sway regulators in PA, this could happen quickly. That’s only really possible because of the DOJ passing on its chance to appeal. If interstate poker comes to PA, players should thank the NH Lottery for its role in helping to clear the way.
Image via Dreamstime.