While online bingo is a phenomenon that draws over 100 million players worldwide, there’s a surprising shortage of players from one country in particular: the United States of America. Despite live bingo games being extremely popular in the States (with America having its own variation of the game, played on 5×5 cards in 75 ball games as opposed to the version more popular in Britain, with 3×15 cards in 90 ball games), the online version still hasn’t really taken off – in fact, most bingo sites won’t even accept US-based players.
Online gambling – of which online bingo is a part – is a tricky subject in US law. The most basic explanation for the lack of online gambling and online bingo in the US is simply that according to federal law, it’s pretty much illegal, as you cannot place a wager on a site based in the United States. Even though it’s been pointed out that technically a US-based player could place a bet on a site not based in the US, the fact that many bingo and gambling sites won’t accept US players places a restriction on the game’s availability to American players. This is due to laws passed in 2006 that made it illegal for American banks to process transactions originating from or directing to any online gambling site – a law that’s been difficult to enforce, but has still deterred many online gambling sites from accepting American players. Some states also have specific laws against placing wagers online, but their rules vary widely and are sometimes unclear – for example, a judge granted the state of Kentucky the permission to seize 141 gambling-related domain names, since online gambling is illegal in Kentucky. Oddly, this included sites that weren’t based in Kentucky at all – so Kentucky was effectively being allowed to seize any domain in the world that violated their own state laws. The Kentucky Court of Appeals overturned this action quite quickly, but then the State appealed, and the issue is still up in the air – the court is now claiming that if domain owners don’t come forward, they might lose their domains. But if they appear in court, then they might be arrested for operating online gambling sites. Bizarre.
So will online gambling ever take off in the US? With its growing popularity in Europe, it seems inevitable that international brands will make the plea to legalise online gambling – in fact, online poker is already legal in Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware. Gambling site Zynga tried launching in the US in 2013, only to be met with anti-gambling statutes, interstate regulations and the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006.
A vocal opponent of online gambling in the US is Sheldon Adelson, chief executive of casino company Las Vegas Sands, who is determined to halt the growth of online bingo in the US in its tracks – he even hired lawyers and lobbyists to try and persuade Congress to ban online gambling. “I am willing to spend whatever it takes […] My moral standard compels me to speak out on this issue because I am the largest company by far in the industry and I am willing to speak out. I don’t see any compelling reason for the government to allow people to gamble on the Internet and nobody has ever explained except for the two companies whose special interest is going to be served if there is gaming on the Internet, Caesars and MGM.” He even tried launching an advocacy group, the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, to achieve his goals.
So with the 11th richest man in the US opposing online gambling (and pouring money into efforts to keep it banned), will the laws ever be lifted? Well, at present, the UIGEA doesn’t actually apply within states that have already legalised forms of gambling, so it’s not as restrictive as it sounds. And currently, every US state except for Hawaii and Utah allows some form of gambling – so it’s not like the seeds haven’t already been sown. Commercial casinos are everywhere, legal in 20 states with about 500 of them in the country – not even including those run by Native American tribes. Interstate poker is also in development, with Delaware and Nevada agreeing to permit residents of both states to play online poker through regulated sites operated as bistate casinos. With online gambling estimated to top $100 billion in revenue this year, it seems inevitable that other states will want to join Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware in legalising online gambling and boosting their economies. So while it may have some powerful opponents, the truth is clear about online gambling: there’s money in it! Adelson’s main concern regards young Americans – he believes that there is no effective way to stop minors or those with gambling problems getting into mountains of debt on these sites, while at real-world casinos like his, they can be stopped by staff. He also doesn’t believe that it can be regulated online, as there’s no way of stopping offshore sites targeting US players. “It’s the height of hypocrisy,” says Adelson. “On one hand, high tech is not strong enough to stop bad people or bad things, but on the other hand, if you say it’s a regulation the high tech is strong enough.”
At WDW Bingo we predict that online gambling will eventually take off in the US – possibly in the next few years, starting with the spread of online poker and other casino games such as craps and blackjack. With it already being legal to play poker online in Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey, it’s most likely that this game will be the one to lead the online gambling market in the US. Bingo will be one of the games to follow, though it won’t follow quite as easily as the other casino games due to the difference in demographic – online casinos report a higher number of male players, and existing bingo sites have player bases of about 80% women. There’s also the likelihood that if online bingo takes off in the US, it probably won’t be on the same sites as UK players. As we’ve already mentioned, the US variation of bingo differs to the UK version, and so operators will likely offer more games in the format familiar to US players. Of course, many UK bingo sites already offer American-style bingo games, so it’s entirely possible that they might just expand to accept US players as well. Only time will tell! While the popularity of online bingo in the UK has helped to shift the stereotype of bingo players being old grannies in community halls, this stereotype still exists in the US – bingo sites will have to work hard on changing this image if they want to snag younger American players. So it’s likely that online bingo won’t be an immediate success if online gambling is legalised in the US, but online casino games – with their more glamorous, Vegas-related image – will take off a lot more quickly, helped particularly by the fact that they are already legal in a few states. But while it may be a slow journey, it’s almost certain that online bingo will spread across America – the big question: will it succeed? We think so!
Slate, Forbes, Legalzoom, Vegasclick, Gambling-Law-US, Wikipedia