Which 2020 Candidate Is the Best for US Online Gaming?
Sports betting has been a huge topic in 2019, with 35 states considering regulatory bills this year. So far, 12 states, plus Washington, D.C., have authorized online sports betting. Many more are expected to do so in the next year or two.
Meanwhile, at the federal level, the only attempt at sports betting regulation was presented by the unlikely duo of Chuck Schumer and Mitt Romney. Their half-baked effort was widely panned. As states take this issue on, it seems less and less likely that Congress will push for a nationwide framework. There could certainly be some advantages to repealing the obsolete Wire Act or finding some other way to allow online gaming across state lines. In a far worse alternative, events could lead to a bill that will change or bring to an end online gaming as Americans are just beginning to know it.
With online gaming finally coming into the U.S. spotlight, let’s examine which 2020 presidential candidate would be best for the online gaming industry.
Donald Trump (Last, F)
As the incumbent and obvious Republican nominee, Trump has been abysmal on the issue. Not exactly what you’d expect from a former casino owner. His administration’s negative stance is expected to continue as long as Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson, an anti-online gaming crusader, continues to pour money into Republican coffers.
In 2018, Trump’s Justice Department reversed course on a long-standing opinion that the Wire Act applies only to sports betting, instead declaring that it applies to any form of online gambling. Many suspected this was an obvious favor to one of Trump’s deep-pocketed allies.
The New Jersey attorney general immediately filed a Freedom Of Information Act request to find out how deep the ties between Adelson and the DOJ went. Later, incensed by this questionable DOJ decision and fearing how it could impact business, the New Hampshire Lottery sued the DOJ seeking to return to the previous interpretation of the Wire Act. In June, the U.S. District Court found in favor of New Hampshire, and set aside the DOJ’s most-recent reinterpretation as inconsistent with the intent of the Wire Act. The DOJ has stated its intent to appeal, and while this litigation could continue for quite some time, it’s fair to expect that the current administration is not going to take any steps that would be considered friendly to online gaming.
Joe Biden (2nd, B)
Though he formerly represented Delaware in the Senate, Biden hails from Pennsylvania, the highest-grossing commercial gaming revenue state outside of Nevada. Biden would have a hard time doing anything to negatively affect his home state’s (and a swing state) economy, especially when gaming employs more than 30,000 Pennsylvanians and brings $3.25 billion in gross revenue to the state annually.
Pennsylvania also allows online casino and sports betting, so it’s been a leader in the expansion of online gaming. Gambling is also an important part of Delaware’s economy, where a combination of horse racing, casino gaming, iGaming and sports betting bring in more than $400 million in annual revenue. So gambling is in Biden’s experiential history, and he’s never given any indication that he’s against it during nearly four decades of public service.
If there are concerns about how Biden will treat online gaming, they revolve around his son, Hunter, whose venture capital firm Eudora Global is entrenched in the online gaming space. After Hunter Biden’s debacle in the Ukraine, his father might steer clear of anything political that would enrich his family, directly or not, out of an abundance of caution.
But if Biden manages to secure the presidency and the smoke of this scandal clears, it’s not a stretch to envision him being at least a mild proponent of the online gambling industry.
Elizabeth Warren (Tied for Last, F)
Warren is perhaps best known for her policy wonk credentials. It’s not surprising she has some strong opinions when it comes to gambling. In July she filed a bill to require the Department of Defense to treat service members with gambling problems. She has been opposed to gambling at many points in her political career, the most notable time in 2011 when she opposed a successful Massachusetts voter referendum to allow casino gaming. Later she supported the repeal of it once it became law. In April, she told a Nevada media outlet that she had concerns about online gambling, and even compared it to the payday loan industry.
“Site-based gambling as a part of the vacation, as part of the destination, is a very different thing from online,” Warren said. “And getting the appropriate restrictions in place so that children don’t have access, so that people who have problems with gambling don’t have access, are challenges that haven’t yet been addressed.”
Years of successful online gambling regulation in Nevada, New Jersey and elsewhere have proven otherwise, so hearing Warren fall back on bromides about “think of the children” is clearly disappointing. If Warren is elected, she will have to find money somewhere, but it seems unlikely that she will look to online gaming to pay for her lofty policy objectives. Like many U.S. industries from Wall Street to Silicon Valley, a Warren presidency could very well be a disaster for online gaming.
Bernie Sanders (4th, D)
Sanders’ official position on online gambling is not clear. But it doesn’t seem overly positive. In the past, he’s voted for the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act, the 2006 federal law that effectively shut down the online poker industry in the U.S. Even more troubling, Sanders also voted for its predecessor law, which would have extended the Wire Act to include all forms of gambling (something the DOJ unilaterally attempted in 2018).
In the last few years, Sanders’ focus has been on a different form of “gambling,” which is how he frequently refers to stock trading. His platform calls for a .5% tax on stock trades, which he considers speculation, in order to pay for his promise of free college tuition for all. Whether or not Sanders supports online gambling is probably a moot point.
Even if he were to support online gaming, he would potentially slap an unsustainable tax on it similar to what he has stated he will do to stock trades. Recall that there is already a .25% federal excise tax on sports betting handle, with no accountability for how that money is spent. Now consider that keeping this tax at only .25% would be a victory after four years of a Sanders presidency. His past stances on online gaming and his tax-and-spend mentality do not seem like a winning combination for the industry.
Andrew Yang (1st, A)
Yang started as a darkhorse but has exceeded expectations and slowly gathered enough support to be taken seriously on the strength of his pragmatic yet progressive policy stances on economic issues. His common-sense approach extends into support for the online gaming industry. In October he tweeted his unmitigated support for a national online poker law — “Online poker is legal in 4 states. The state-by-state rules are variable and push many players to offshore sites. We should clarify the rules and make it legal in all 50 states. US players and companies would benefit and new tax revenues could be used to mitigate addiction.”
Yang gets it, and he gets bonus points for understanding how pain points in the clunky state-by-state regulation of online gaming leads customers directly into the open arms of offshore operators. If Yang comes out this strongly in support of online poker, you could expect he would also support a similar framework for online sports betting and iGaming. Andrew Yang: Not Right, Not Left, Forward.
Pete Buttigieg (Speculative 3rd, B-)
Thirty-seven-year-old Mayor Pete has no voting record on gambling. Nor has he made any public comments for or against it. Given what we know about Buttigieg, he seems like a fairly centrist candidate who is unlikely to take a strong position against regulating vices like gaming. As someone who grew up in South Bend, Indiana, where he eventually was elected mayor, he probably appreciates the employment and tax impact casinos bring to his region.
And as a near-millennial who grew up in the internet age, it’s unlikely he shares the fear of technology that occasionally seems to factor into the policy decisions of Sanders or Warren. If Buttigieg continues to stick around in the race, he will probably have to firm up some of his squishy policy stances, and hopefully online gambling is one such topic. In the meantime, he gets the benefit of the doubt as someone who would probably do no harm to the industry.
Charles Gillespie is CEO of Gambling.com Group.
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