With Casinos Closed, Indiana Should Consider Regulated Online Casinos

Posted on March 30, 2020

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to affect all aspects of life, more and more industries are moving their operations online, if possible. The gambling industry is no exception. The necessary closure of brick-and-mortar casinos is causing both operators and customers to seek online alternatives.

It was less than a year ago that Indiana introduced online sports betting. For a variety of reasons, the time may well have arrived for Indiana to consider adding online casinos as well, and sooner than later.

Sports yes, casinos no when it comes to wagering online in Indiana

In May 2019, Indiana joined the growing contingent of states choosing to legalize sports betting after the U.S. Supreme Court lifted the federal prohibition against states other than Nevada from doing so in May 2018. The first retail sportsbooks in the Hoosier State began accepting wagers in early September 2019, just in time for the start of last year’s NFL season.

The new law permits the state’s casinos, racinos, and off-track betting parlors to host sportsbooks. It also allows licensees to have up to three “skins” or partnerships with online sportsbooks. The first of these sites opened in early October 2019. The most recent one launched in early March 2020, making a total of six online sportsbooks with the potential for many more.

Of course, both retail and online sportsbooks are in a difficult spot at the moment. The pandemic forced brick-and-mortar sportsbooks to close. Accordingly, it has essentially forced the temporary cessation of the sports themselves, causing even online sportsbooks to become largely dormant as there are no games on which to bet.

Meanwhile, Indiana’s law does not permit other forms of online gambling such as the slots or table games found in other states’ online casinos. In this respect, Indiana has followed the path taken by many other states that have legalized sports betting but have drawn the line to prohibit other types of wagering online, including online casinos.

Other states witnessing spikes in online casino and online poker traffic

As you might imagine, during this period when almost all retail casinos are closed and practically zero sports betting is available, states that do have online casinos and/or online poker have seen the games suddenly become more popular than ever.

We still await March revenue reports for the online casinos in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. Even so, there are already indications the numbers will significantly increase for the month as more gamblers forced to stay indoors seek avenues for action.

The New York Times reported “a significant spike in volume and revenue” occurring as casinos close and other measures have been enacted to encourage social distancing and curtail the outbreak.

“FOX Bet says its online casino and poker operations have doubled the rate at which it is adding new customers in the last week,” the NYT reports. PlaySugarHouse and BetRivers have similarly reported sharp increases, with Golden Nugget additionally reporting a 20% rise in sign-ups at its New Jersey-leading online casino.

Traffic at online poker rooms has also significantly increased over the last 7-10 days. For example, in Pennsylvania where the last of the state’s 12 casinos closed on March 17, nightly traffic at the state’s lone online poker room, PokerStars PA, has more than doubled.

Online casino traffic may encourage other states to consider regulation

While online casinos certainly cannot come close to replacing all of the revenue lost from their retail equivalents, they could nonetheless provide some needed assistance to the Indiana properties while also keeping alive their contacts with consumers.

Additionally, when the properties are able to open once again, be it sooner or later, the launch of online casinos during the interim would mean the mobile and web-based sites will have already become established among users. That is to say, if launched while the retail casinos remain closed, Indiana online casinos would be introduced as not merely an alternative, but a primary option.

Associate Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs at the University of Nevada Las Vegas David G. Schwartz is an author of several books on gambling history. He sees more states starting to consider adding online casinos as a genuine possibility.

“As revenues from brick-and-mortar casinos evaporate, states may consider legalizing online gambling, which may, to some extent, replace the play that was previously done in person,” says Schwartz.

Of course, as demonstrated by the original battle among lawmakers to legalize sports betting in Indiana, adding online casinos is easier said than done. However, given the unique circumstances at present, there might be a greater chance of that happening (and more quickly) than would be the case otherwise.

For Indiana, adding online casinos is certainly worth at least a look.

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