Dmitry Starostenkov, CEO at EvenBet Gaming examines online poker’s prospects stateside
The US has always been associated with manifest destiny, embarking on new regions and making the most of what is there. It seems fitting then that legalised online poker is finding its way across the country, adjusting to different forms of regulation in various states.
Poker is deeply entrenched within American culture, being as symbolic to the country as Mah-jong is for China or Rummy in India. Even so, the US has been without any legitimate means to enjoy the game online for 10 years and there is a real hunger for it now. Despite all this, the estimated number of Americans regularly playing poker in all its forms still reaches 10 million.
As different states become regulated in one guise or another, the game is finally beginning to find its place on people’s computer and smartphone screens. New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware are the most obvious states for an operator to approach from a regulatory point of view. There is also West Virginia, Michigan and Pennsylvania, which are regulating online poker and are likely to join the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement.
Unfortunately, high liquidity is always crucial for the game to be interesting for players and with such prohibitive legislation in the majority of states, the game is not going to be as strong as it could be. This is possibly the biggest obstacle operators will face. However, even in these circumstances major operators like PokerStars are already able to get as much as 500 daily active players in one state, and this number is extremely promising.
That being said, differentiation can always help in standing out from the crowd and that is more important than ever when competing against the industry’s big brands. With poker being synonymous with US gambling, differentiating an offering should not be too great of a challenge. Building a strong and reputable offering, including a balanced tournament schedule are key factors for acquiring players and keeping them engaged.
Obviously, many of these issues could be solved with national gambling regulation, but that is unlikely to be a possibility, certainly not in the next two or three years. In fact, the US is so diverse with respect to state legislation that a national gambling regulation of any kind may simply not be feasible on any timeline.
The current federal government policy is to keep online gaming regulation at the states’ level, so the best outcome we can hope for now is that more states will introduce poker regulation and join the multi-state agreement. However, operators should keep in mind that they will still need to go through licensing in each state separately.
These issues pale in comparison to the sheer potential of the states, however. There is not a country in the world that can compete with the US for the technological infrastructure needed to roll out online poker at scale. The vast majority of US citizens own some form of smartphone. As well as that, for various reasons, desktop gaming is still hugely appealing to customers in the states. As a result of this, I expect that the mobile share will grow, but at a much slower pace than in Asia or South America.
Of course, all this development is promising, but player safety still needs to be a priority. With the current compliance and regulation policies, poker customers in the US are going to be well protected if they play at the legal operators’ websites. The main risk factor that we can foresee is the growth of scam websites passing themselves off as licensed operators. As online gaming gains momentum, monitoring all such activity becomes far more difficult, so players should be careful.
Responsibly enjoying poker, whether offline or online, has always been a special pastime in the US. That explains the initial online poker boom that started in the US and why operators flourish in every state where online poker becomes regulated. Without wanting to sound too optimistic, I hope to see this happening a lot more.