Dating back to August, Indiana Republican state Sen. Jon Ford has been taking every opportunity he can find to talk about introducing iGaming legislation in 2021. On Thursday, Indianapolis lawyer Ali Bartlett of Bose McKinney & Evans offered a little clearer vision of what the new legislation might look like and how Ford will convince his fellow lawmakers to sign on.
“I think iGaming will be on the plate this year, and we do know that a bill will be introduced,” Bartlett said during a panel titled “Will the Land-based Shutdown Encourage More Markets to Legalize Remote Betting?” as part of the Global Gaming Expo. “I think the revenue argument alone will go a long way. Hopefully, we can get this through pretty easily and let the regulators go from there.”
Bartlett was joined virtually by Colorado Department of Revenue head Dan Hartman, Penn National Vice President and Chief Compliance Officer Chris Soriano, and Fox Rothschild partner Marie Jones.
Indiana was among the first states to legalize both retail and digital sports betting. Retail operators went live on Sept. 1, 2019, and the first digital operators followed on Oct. 3, 2019. Between then and now, neighboring Michigan legalized both digital sports betting and iGaming, meaning consumers can play casino games on their mobile devices. Regulators in Michigan are planning for a December 2020 or January 2021 digital launch.
iGaming legislation will require ties to retail casinos
When Ford does introduce his legislation, expect iGaming to look similar to digital sports betting. Bartlett said the new bill will tie iGaming to brick-and-mortar casinos, just as sportsbooks are required to have a retail casino partner. And it won’t be surprising if Ford looks to Michigan and its iGaming champion Brandt Iden when it comes to structuring online gaming. In Michigan, sportsbooks and iCasino must be tethered to land-based casinos, and there will be no stand-alone digital platforms.
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Bartlett noted that Indiana lawmakers and some operators have expressed concern that online/mobile gaming will “cannibalize” brick-and-mortar venues. Ironically, the pandemic may have helped to put some of those concerns to rest.
“There is still that fear in Indiana of cannibalization of the land-based business with iGaming, even though we’ve seen that’s not the case in other places,” Bartlett said.
The pandemic “was a good opportunity for legislators and citizens who might have been [concerned] about online/mobile to get comfortable with it. It was a tough sell in a conservative state, but it was an opportunity for people to see how it works.”
In fact, most states and operators are seeing just the opposite. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that iGaming an`d retail gaming are complementary, rather than at odds with each other.
“We’ve been seeing on the online property customers that were retail customers, or guests who were iCasino players and are now sports bettors,” said Soriano, whose Penn National is live with sports betting in multiple states, including Indiana. “When you have an omni-channel situation, everything is complementing each other and not competing against each other.”
In fact, operators in Indiana were among those best positioned to manage pandemic-related shutdowns and restrictions with regard to sports betting. Though retail locations were shut down throughout the country for most of the spring, Penn National, DraftKings, FanDuel, and others had unique offerings, ranging from table tennis to Belarusian soccer to eSports available. And in the states with iGaming, including Pennsylvania, operators saw sports bettors move to online casino, helping to keep a revenue stream going.