Nevada Congresswoman Defends iGaming Legality in Letter to Department of Justice

Nevada Congresswoman Defends iGaming Legality in Letter to Department of Justice

Continuing an ongoing dialogue between lawmakers and the Department of Justice (DOJ) regarding online gambling’s legality, Representative Diane Titus (D-1) of Nevada defended the Silver State’s iGaming industry in an open letter.

Writing to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Titus argued against reversing a 2011 memorandum issued by the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel limiting the federal Wire Act’s iGaming ban to sports betting.

Prior to the memo’s release, the Wire Act of 1961 – which prohibited sports wagering via telephonic means – had been interpreted to form the basis of a full ban on internet gambling operations of any form, known as the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006.

When the DOJ shifted their stance, individual states were effectively free to pass legislation to legalize and regulate online poker and casino games.

Nevada became the second state to successfully pass an iGaming bill in February of 2013, joining Delaware, and within two months, the Ultimate Poker platform became the first legal iGaming site to go live within the U.S. New Jersey also legalized online poker that year, along with casino games, and Pennsylvania passed a comprehensive iGaming package in late 2017.

As a result, conservative donor and billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson has allied with conservative lawmakers on Capitol Hill to back a series of bills purporting to “Restore America’s Wire Act” (RAWA). While those efforts have proved to be toothless thus far, Adelson continues to fund the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG) and the arrival of ardent anti-gambling voice Jeff Sessions as Attorney General has revived the RAWA debate.

Sessions was forced to recuse himself from iGaming-related policymaking after he stated that he was “shocked” by the 2011 memo during his Senate confirmation hearings.

Titus opened her letter to Rosenstein by reminding the DOJ’s second in command of that memo’s clearly delineated directives:

“This opinion clarified that the Wire Act only applies to sports betting and does not prohibit other forms of online gaming.”

She then pointed to Nevada’s successful track record regulating online poker for the last five years as proof that iGaming legal states are thriving under the new laws:

“Much of the legal gaming in the U.S. occurs in my congressional district. Accordingly, Nevada has set the gold standard when it comes to gaming regulation and consumer protections.

In Las Vegas we have seen that a regulated market is always better than an illegal one.

Internet gaming will not go away with a reversal of the Wire Act guidance; it will merely push more consumers into black markets. A reversal will only hurt business.”

Titus also refuted claims made by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) – sponsor of the original RAWA bill in 2014 – and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who jointly authored their own letter to Rosenstein requesting the 2011 memo be reexamined:

“The Graham-Feinstein letter uses fear tactics and hyperbolic language to emphasize their distaste for online gaming.

While they claim online gaming ‘preys on children,” in Nevada there are effective technological safeguards in place to verify age and location. In contrast, unregulated internet gaming sites provide no assurances that minors will be prevented from gambling.”

In closing, Titus observed that regulated iGaming industries force unregulated sites out of the marketplace altogether, significantly improving consumer protections:

“There is copious evidence that businesses involved in illegal online gaming have left the regulated online gaming markets in Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey.

I encourage you to carefully study this issue and consult with industry leaders, regulators and consumers before reversing Wire Act guidance in a way that could eliminate jobs in the online gaming industry, infringe on states’ rights, and exacerbate growth of the illegal online gaming market.”

In January, a bipartisan group of Congressional delegates from New Jersey – where iGaming revenue reached $ 245 million last year – also responded to the Graham-Feinstein letter by writing directly to Rosenstein.

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New Jersey, Nevada, Delaware Agree to Share Online Poker Player Pools

New Jersey, Nevada, Delaware Agree to Share Online Poker Player Pools

Following four years of negotiation, the governors of New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware have finally agreed to share online poker player pools.

The interstate iGaming compact links the three jurisdictions – which are currently the only three American states offering legal online gambling – by allowing poker players to compete against one another across state lines.

Nevada and Delaware forged a similar agreement in 2015, with operator 888 Holdings combining online poker player pools across its (Nevada) and 888Poker (Delaware) platforms.

But iGaming industry experts have long contended that the New Jersey market – which is much larger and more active – was the lynchpin to improving lagging player liquidity levels.

Within an isolated iGaming market, also known as “ring-fenced” markets, online poker players can only compete against opponents located in the same jurisdiction. This limitation serves as an artificial cap on liquidity, forcing major platforms like operating in more than one market to divide their customer base by location.

Conversely, under the liquidity sharing programs prevalent in the European and international markets, operators can combine player pools from multiple countries – thus expanding game selection and activity across the board.

In a statement, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey praised the long-awaited agreement as a vital step in the state’s continuing iGaming evolution:

“New Jersey has been a pioneer in the development of authorized, regulated online gaming, which has been a budding success since its launch in late 2013.

Pooling players with Nevada and Delaware will enhance annual revenue growth, attract new consumers, and create opportunities for players and Internet gaming operators.

This agreement marks the beginning of a new and exciting chapter for online gaming, and we look forward to working with our partners in Nevada and Delaware in this endeavor.”

David Rebuck, who serves as director of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (NJDGE), added a statement outlining his agency’s regulatory approach to player sharing:

“New Jersey stands prepared to approve a game offering for all three states as soon as an operator submits such a product for testing.”

Rebuck’s counterpart in Nevada – chairman A.G. Burnett of the Nevada Gaming Control Board – spoke with Online Poker Report to provide perspective from the Silver State:

“The technology teams in Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware are going to meet to discuss next steps.

The timeline is to move toward integration ASAP.”

As Burnett mentioned, Christie’s announcement included no details on when implementation will begin.

The company which stands to benefit most from eventual player sharing is Caesars Interactive Entertainment, which owns and operates – the only online poker platform in Nevada. Using software provided by 888 Holdings, Caesars also operates in New Jersey – making it the only site with an active presence in both states.

The three iGaming platforms operated by the Delaware Lottery have an exclusive software provision agreement with 888 Holdings.

Caesars issued a statement praising regulators in all three states for coming to an agreement after years of deliberation:

“We applaud the government leadership and the regulators in New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware for reaching this meaningful agreement.

We will immediately begin efforts to take our existing Delaware-Nevada compact and add New Jersey to the mix by following the requirements established by the regulators so can share liquidity with all three states.”

Caesars also holds the license for 888Poker in New Jersey, making it the only entity which could immediately share online poker player liquidity across all three states.

New Jersey’s other major online poker network – which includes BorgataPoker, PartyPoker, and PlayMGMPoker – is maintained by MGM Resorts International, owner of the Borgata casino in Atlantic City.

MGM’s status as a major player in Nevada land-based gaming makes the company a likely candidate to launch similar networks there, which would then be linked to their counterparts in New Jersey.

As for PokerStars, which went live in New Jersey just last year, language within Nevada’s iGaming regulations specifically prohibits the company from operating there. As such, PokerStars wouldn’t be able to benefit from interstate player sharing for the foreseeable future.

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Nevada Sportsbooks Set New Record for Basketball Betting in March

Nevada Sportsbooks Set New Record for Basketball Betting in March

Per the latest revenue report issued by the Nevada Gaming Control Board (NGCB), sportsbooks in the Silver State set yet another record for basketball betting activity in March, recording $ 429.5 million in total wagers.

Amidst the backdrop of college basketball’s “March Madness” climax, Nevada’s basketball handle eclipsed last year’s previous record-setting high of $ 422 million. And compared to March of 2015, bettors risked $ 54 million more on basketball wagers this time around.

Michael Lawton, a senior research analyst in the Tax and License Division for the NCGB, offered his professional take on the factors fueling such rapid rates of growth:

“The sports pools win was $ 31.4 million, up 225.3 percent, and that was driven by basketball.

It was an all-time record. So needless to say, the activity was generated from NCAA basketball tournament. It was extremely strong and stronger on the win than the volume. Basketball hold was very high, at 9.61 percent.”

The “win” Lawton spoke of refers to the total profit collected on basketball bets by Nevada’s assortment of 190 sportsbooks.

In March, the books hauled in a $ 41.275 million win – another record-setting figure for Nevada – creating a hold of 9.61 percent.

The previous record for basketball betting win was established in March of 2015, at $ 28 million, but this year easily shattered that mark.

And while the NGCB doesn’t differentiate between professional and college basketball as part of its internal accounting, Lawton estimates that 70 percent of the total handle was generated by the NCAA Tournament.

Using Lawton’s figure, Nevada’s books took in just over $ 300 million from bettors hoping to bank on the next National Champion. That represents a slight increase from the $ 295.4 million handle recorded during the 2016 NCAA Tournament.

Prior to March Madness getting underway, the American Gaming Association (AGA) – the top lobbying group working in Washington D.C. on behalf of the casino and sportsbook industry – published its annual estimates for wagering levels.

On March 13, only days before the NCAA Tournament tipped off, the AGA offered the following forecasts for March Madness betting:

“Of the $ 10.4 billion that will be wagered on the tournament in 2017, only about $ 295 million – or 3 percent – will be wagered legally through Nevada sports books. The remaining $ 10.1 billion will be spent on illegal offshore websites or through bookies.”

Using a methodology involving legal gambling activity at regulated sportsbooks, combined with extrapolations based on gross domestic product (GDP) growth to cover illicit wagering options, the AGA nearly hit Nevada’s handle figure of $ 300 million on the head.

Per the AGA report, the record-setting basketball betting which took place in Nevada’s legal bet shops represents just 3 percent of America’s overall volume.

The month also stands as a rebound of sorts for the state, following a disastrous January which saw favorites covering consistently to send $ 8.25 million in losses back to the betting public. That marked one of the industry’s worst football wagering months on record, but the damage was largely undone courtesy of March Madness.

The basketball wagering figures can be attributed to another nearly record-setting performance, as the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority reported that 3.78 million tourists flocked to Sin City in March.

That marks a 1.4 percent jump over last year, and makes March of 2017 the third-best month in Las Vegas history – trailing only July of 2016 (3.83 million) and October of 2015 (3.78 million).

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Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval Tells AG Jeff Sessions to Back Off Federal iGaming Ban

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval Tells AG Jeff Sessions to Back Off Federal iGaming Ban

During a meeting with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on April 26, Governor Brian Sandoval of Nevada argued against federal efforts to ban online gambling.

According to transcripts from Sandoval’s press briefing on April 28, during which he provided local press an account of his discussion with Sessions, the executive running one of just three states with regulated iGaming defended the industry.

Michelle Rindels of the Nevada Independent published her take on Sandoval’s time with Sessions, which took place in Washington D.C. during the Nevada governor’s series of talks with Cabinet-level officials within the Trump administration.

In his recounting of events, Sandoval told reporters that he and Sessions – a longtime opponent of online gambling during his time as a senator from Alabama – sparred over the latter’s critiques of the iGaming industry.

During the Senate confirmation hearings held ahead of his elevation to Attorney General, Sessions was asked about his views on a 2011 opinion issued by the Department of Justice (DOJ) – which he would soon take command of – revising the federal government’s stance on the Wire Act of 1961.

That opinion held that the Wire Act – a federal law banning gambling activity over the telephone which was previously used to outlaw all online wagering – only applied to sports betting. By releasing the revised opinion, the DOJ effectively allowed individual states to legalize and regulate their own iGaming industries – a privilege that Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware have since exercised.

Sessions responded that he was initially “shocked” at the DOJ’s decision, before stating that he was opposed to the current Wire Act interpretation.

As such, locales where iGaming has been regulated – along with states like New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and others currently considering similar legislation – have a renewed interest in the incoming DOJ chief’s policies on internet-based gambling.

Sandoval attempted to exclude Nevada from such actions, perhaps floating the possibility of a so-called “grandfather” clause which would exempt the three states that have successfully implanted iGaming regulations:

“If there is any action that is taken, that does not include Nevada, that we do a very good job. We’ve been better than anybody in the country if not the world when it comes to the regulation of gaming.”

In defending the right of states to regulate their own online gambling commerce, Sandoval joins a long list of advocacy groups which have expressed their opposition to Sessions’ rumored reversal of the 2011 DOJ opinion.

Among the organizations to publicly oppose a federal iGaming ban are The National Governors Association (NGA), the Democratic Governors Association (DGA), the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL), and the North American Association of State & Provincial Lotteries (NASPL).

As reported by Online Poker Report and other outlets, the talks between Sandoval and Sessions come amidst increasing focus on the Trump administration’s connection to anti-iGaming interests. President Trump accepted $ 5 million in campaign contributions from Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas Sands land-based casino mogul and multibillionaire conservative patron.

Adelson previously championed the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) initiative, providing millions of dollars in funding through a lobbying group known as the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling.

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Poker Rooms Across Nevada Collect $8.9 Million in Rake During November

Poker Rooms Across Nevada Collect $8.9 Million in Rake During November

Per the latest revenue report released by the Nevada Gaming Control Board (NGCB), the Silver State collected $ 8.92 million in rake from poker tables in November of 2016.

That number represented a slight dip from the $ 8.97 million raked by Nevada poker rooms in September of 2015.

This particular set of NGCB data concerns cash game poker tables only, as tournament tables are tracked using a different accounting method. Cash game rake constitutes a small percentage of every pot generated, which is removed from the pot and added to the casino’s coffers. For tournament play, on the other hand, casinos add entry fees to the total buy-in figure.

On a regional level, nearly 64 percent of the total poker room revenue was generated in the city of Las Vegas – representing another small decrease from last November’s 65 percent mark. Poker rooms located on The Strip or in outlying areas of Sin City hauled in $ 5.68 million in rake altogether.

The Strip area is by far Nevada’s most productive poker room locality, serving as the venue for 20 poker rooms which spread 275 tables. With 65 poker rooms scattered throughout Nevada, covering 625 poker tables, The Strip is home to just over 30 percent of the state’s poker rooms, and 44 percent of its tables.

On a year-to-year basis, Nevada’s poker economy generated $ 117.7 million in rake between November of 2015 and November of 2016. This figure is nearly identical to the yearly rake collected over the same 12-month span between 2014 and 2015.

Over the course of 2016, every month produced a poker rake between $ 8 million and $ 10 million – except for June and July. The summer months are when the World Series of Poker (WSOP) and other annual tournament series transform Las Vegas into a poker paradise, as thousands upon thousands of recreational players and professionals arrive en masse to compete in the game’s world championships.

Accordingly, the influx of poker players during those months results in monthly poker room rake rates doubling on average in June, while increasing by 50 percent in July as the WSOP schedule winds down.

Overall, the comprehensive gambling win posted by Nevada’s casinos totaled $ 930.4 million this past November, representing a drop of 1.47 percent from the previous November’s $ 944.3 million win rate.

But as Michael Lawton, who serves as senior research analyst for the NGCB, told the Las Vegas Sun in a December 29 interview, using month-to-month trends can be deceiving:

“The state was facing a difficult comparison. Last November, the state was up 7.8 percent. But the state has only recorded two decreases in the last six months. For the calendar year, the state is up 1.7 percent.”

The table below contains a full review of Nevada’s poker room rake figures on a monthly basis over the last year:

Nevada Poker Room Rake by Month
Month – Rake – Year-to-Year Movement
January – $ 9.5 million – Down 2.85 percent
February – $ 8.98 million – Up 5.44 percent
March – $ 9.68 million – Down 0.01 percent
April – $ 8.57 million – Up 0.86 percent
May – $ 8.88 million – Down 13.92 percent
June – $ 16.14 million – Up 1.88 percent
July – $ 12.33 million – Up 7.63 percent
August – $ 8.24 million – Down 3.23 percent
September – $ 8.44 million – Up 1.47 percent
October – $ 8.71 million – Down 0.23 percent
November – $ 8.92 million – Down 0.65 percent

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Nevada Regulators Approve Inspired Gaming Group to Offer VR-Sports Betting

Nevada Regulators Approve Inspired Gaming Group to Offer VR-Sports Betting

A pair of London-based gaming industry leaders will join forces to bring real money wagering on virtual reality sports to Nevada for the first time.

Inspired Gaming Group, which bills itself as “the leading provider of Virtual Sports,” partnered with the William Hill sportsbook to successfully pass a technical field trial within Nevada casinos.

As a result, the two companies were granted approval by the Nevada Gaming Control Board (NGCB) to become the first providers of real money virtual reality sports (VR-Sports) betting services in the state. In fact, as noted by a press release issued by Inspired Gaming Group on December 9, the approval cements the company’s status as the first VR-Sports wagering provider in all of America.

In that press release Steve Rogers, who serves as Inspired Gaming Group’s CCO of Digital Games, celebrated the company’s entrance to the Nevada market:

“The successful completion of Inspired’s Virtual Sports technical field trial in Nevada is fantastic news for the business, as we bring our extensive portfolio of products to more U.S. venues than ever before.

This announcement again confirms Inspired as the world leader in Virtual Sports innovation and deployment, and we look forward to delivering cutting-edge Entertainment with an Edge to William Hill’s customers in Nevada.”

Although the practice of wagering on VR-Sports has become commonplace for European bettors over the past decade, Americans are largely unfamiliar with the concept.

VR-Sports are based on virtual reality replications of familiar sporting events, such as soccer games and horse races.

Through the use of carefully designed mathematical models and algorithms, companies like Inspired Gaming Group are able to create virtual simulations of real life games, matches, and races. Personal attributes like skill, speed, and experience can be preprogrammed into the simulation, along with external conditions like weather and even officiating errors.

In May of this year Betradar created a VR-Sports recreation of the EURO 2016 soccer tournament, allowing European bettors to back various sides during multiple simulations. Using this format, a VR-Sports event like the EURO 2016 tournament can be offered on a continuous basis, with each simulation generating completely unique – but reality-dependent – results.

The first VR-Sports events offering real money wagering are expected to launch in 2017, with William Hill affiliated casino sportsbooks displaying lines and odds along with their live sports. Products like Inspired Gaming Group’s soccer simulation Rush Football 2 Matchday and the thoroughbred racing replica Rush Horses are expected to highlight the Las Vegas rollout.

For William Hill, the U.K.’s leading sportsbook and a globally-recognized operator, the partnership with Inspired Gaming Group solidifies the company’s focus on the emerging eSports and VR-Sports market segments.

In July of this year William Hill made headlines by offering real money wagering on virtual reality horse races, held at the Plaza and Silver Sevens during a field trial.

This November, William Hill also established its foothold as the first eSports – or video games played in league and tournament formats – wagering servicer in the state of Nevada.

As for Inspired Gaming Group, the company is also planning to launch VR-Sports betting services in New Jersey – a state where wagering on real sporting events is not permitted – in a partnership with the Golden Nugget and Resorts casinos.

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William Hill Sportsbook Becomes First eSports Betting Provider in Nevada

William Hill Sportsbook Becomes First eSports Betting Provider in Nevada

For the first time, bettors in Nevada can place wagers on the outcome of video and computer game tournaments – collectively known as eSports.

The service was made available on Friday, November 18th through the William Hill-operated sportsbook located within the Downtown Grand Casino in Las Vegas.

The first slate of eSports wagers made available by the British-based William Hill covered the Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) tournament series in Oakland, held over the following weekend at Oracle Arena. Bettors at the Downtown Grand were able to choose between any of the six teams participating in the IEM Oakland’s two-day League of Legends (LoL) tournament.

The odds offered made Team SoloMid (+110) the clear favorite ahead of the weekend tournament, followed by Longzhu (+160), Flash Wolves (4/1), Unicorns of Love (10/1), INTZ e-Sports (60/1), and The Chiefs Esports (100/1).

Additionally, wagers could be placed on a pair of Saturday LoL quarterfinal matches, with INTZ e-Sports (+180) a slight underdog to Unicorns of Love (-220), and Longzhu (-1100) the heavy favorite over The Chiefs Esports (+700).
In the end, Unicorns of Love overcame steep 10 to 1 odds against and defeated the favored Flash Wolves in a thrilling best-of-five finals.

The eSports industry includes full-fledged leagues like IEM, fielding teams of professional players who compete in tournaments involving popular video games, such as the multiplayer battle LoL and the military combat simulation Counter Strike: Global Offensive.

The addition of eSports to Nevada’s sports betting landscape was smoothed by regulatory approval from the state’s Gaming Control Board (NGCB). The Chairman of the NGCB, A.G. Burnett, approved the licensing application submitted by William Hill and Fifth Street Gaming, operator of the Downtown Grand, under the provisions of Regulation 22.

Specifically, Burnett found that regulatory exemption (22.120(f)) allows wagers on non-sporting events, including the winner of the Heisman Trophy and other awards. As such, eSports was approved by classifying events as falling under the “non-sporting” variety.

Nevada’s governor Brian Sandoval took an active role in making the state a pioneer within the field of eSports betting, and he issued a statement celebrating the licensing approval:

“This announcement is a major step toward ensuring Nevada becomes the e-sports capital of the world. By embracing this unique opportunity and incorporating innovation and technology into our gaming industry, we’re expanding the potential of one of our oldest industries.

Representatives from William Hill and Downtown Grand have been active partners with the Gaming Policy Committee as we examined e-sports wagering in the State of Nevada. I would like to congratulate them on this approval and commend both companies for their swift work and determination.”

Seth Schorr, who serves as Chief Executive Officer for Fifth Street Gaming and Chairman of the Downtown Grand Casino, echoed Governor Sandoval’s sentiments in his own statement:

“It has been an honor and a privilege to work closely with Chairman Burnett and the Governor’s Gaming Policy Committee to gain collective support for wagering on eSports.

We are proud that the Downtown Grand will be the home to the first regulated eSports wager in America. The team at the Downtown Grand has worked hard to establish itself as a truly unique eSports destination.”

William Hill and the Downtown Grand are already planning for the next major eSports tournament on the calendar, the Major League Gaming eSports Festival, held at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas December 16th-18th.

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