Why Nevada’s first online gambling license is more symbol than substance

Deuces, cards, poker

The state of Nevada granted a first-of-its-kind license to a U.K. company last week to operate online poker games in the state. The move will help return internet gambling to American shores but, according to a gaming insider, the value of the license is, for now, closer to a pair of deuces than a royal flush.

The news, in case you missed it, came last Friday when a company called 888 confirmed it will begin operating online poker games as soon as May alongside established casinos like Treasure Island and Caesars. The move comes in response to the federal government’s decision in 2011 that online gambling is no longer illegal if states explicitly permit it; Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware have so far passed laws to allow it.

So why is the 888 news not a big deal? According to a source who works in the gambling industry, 888’s opportunity comes with two major strings attached: it is limited to players physically in the state of Nevada and it only covers poker. The second condition is important because poker depends on player liquidity, which means it is less lucrative for the house than games like roulette or slots.

The source, who did not want to be identified, added that the online gambling industry is focusing instead on developments in New Jersey which has a much larger population (8.8M versus 2.7M in Nevada) and where the state law permits all casino floor games, not just poker.

In the bigger picture, even New Jersey is unlikely to be a game changer given that online gaming companies still have to cater to players on a state by state basis.

“It’s like taking the stock exchange and dividing it by 50. You have to ring fence players, and then account for whether the legal age is 18 or 21,” said the source, adding that the industry is crossing their fingers for a big state to come on board. “If Texas or California falls, that would be a more interesting thing.”

The online gaming industry, which was chased out of the United States in 2006, is also hoping for a bigger breakthrough in the form of new federal legislation that would establish unified rules and protocols across the country.

The outcome is important because potentially hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake for online gaming giants like Bwin that currently operate in Britain and elsewhere, and for fading social gaming sites like Zynga that are desperate for a new revenue stream. Finally, casino centers like Atlantic City are desperate to get a piece of the online action to make up for business they’ve lost to other states and venues.

(Image by  Doug Stevensvia Shutterstock)

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