Gambling regulation and Lady Luck: An update on 2023 progress

Martin Lycka Columen April 2023

Entain’s SVP of American Regulatory Affairs and Responsible Gambling Martin Lycka runs down how the legislative efforts to expand gambling have gone so far in 2023 and how much or, in some cases, how little of the progress can be chalked up to Lady Luck.

Regulatory developments are notoriously unpredictable, and predictions are simply iffy. One might be as prepared and as equipped as possible but Lady Luck might not be on one’s side. That befalls even the author of this column whose name happens to mean luck, fortune, or happiness in Swedish (of all languages). 

You might have the best poker hand ever and still might fold because someone’s turned out to be more resourceful, cunning, or the game hasn’t gone your way because of other external circumstances. In other words, in this game, nothing ain’t done (or over) till the fat lady dealing the regulatory cards sings. To make it even more convoluted, that proverbial “fat lady” may be replaced by another one with a different pack of cards in the event of a government change.

That’s why this game of toing and froing is simultaneously so frustrating and so entertaining; pure agony and uplifting extasy. So, let’s play a bit and see where this post-March madness has gotten to so far this year. 

US first. Mind you, I’m deliberately not saying America first. Call me naïve but I did genuinely think that by now we would have been across or at least very close to the iGaming line in Indiana. The industry had the momentum, it had champions in the legislature, but it sadly turned out that it didn’t have the votes. The Indiana process got rather convoluted because of a plethora of factors, including political, economic and interest-driven ones. By the way, I told you predictions are iffy and I for one should actually practice what I preach right here right now as I’m on the record as saying that Indiana will go this year … 

Similar story in the Empire State. Sen. Addabbo adopted iGaming as one of his “pet projects”, riding on the wave of legislative success of sports betting. He deserves all the credit in the world for having picked up the gauntlet and tried (and tried hard,) and I’m sure he’ll back to try again next year. Yet, it’s not gonna work out this year as iGaming has not made it to any of the NY state budget proposals. 

I could carry on like this for a bit and touch upon the likes of Iowa or Illinois, but ultimately the outcome is expected to be the same. Rather unpredictably, at least for me to be fair, the only state that may end up hoisting the iGaming flag this year and join the rather meagre ranks of 6 and ½ iGaming state is New Hampshire. With all due respect, it only count as a half itself owing to its intention to permit table games but no online slots. We shall see how it pans out. 

It would appear that iGaming has lost a bit of its momentum in 2023 (albeit not the enthusiasm) because of a confluence of factors, such as being more complex to grasp and regulate than sports betting, the fact that a lot of states remain rather flush with cash on the back of the pandemic and post-pandemic federal aid, and finally the somewhat persisting divergence within the industry as to how to go about. In other words, I’d suggest that to turn 2024 into the US Year of iGaming as an industry we will need to pull even closer together and craft an even more compelling narrative that is better aligned with the individual states’ interests. 

On the other hand, there’s more hope and, keeping with the theme, more commitment from Lady Luck, on the US sports betting side of things. Kentucky got its bill across the line and it would appear that a few other states such as North Carolina, Vermont, and Missouri have a fighting chance. That said, the poker hands seem less strong in the Sphinx-like Texas and ever-so-complex Minnesota. As I’ve already said, frustrating and entertaining, all at the same time. 

That’s the US, however, similar patterns apply to other Americas’ nations. Peru and Chile have looked into regulating their respective online gambling markets for a while. And just when one would have thought they were pretty much there, the good folk of Peru took to the streets to protest against the fall of the impeached president while the Chilean government’s flagship tax and constitutional reform fell flat on its face. You just can’t make it up. And yet, both countries are picking up the regulatory projects where they left off and we are willing them on to go and join the club of regulated gambling states. 

Finally, dare I say it, there’s Brazil. President Bolsonaro rode off into the Florida sunset (and has come back home since) without signing the sport betting regulation into law. Having gotten their feet under their new, or in some instances, their “old new” desks, the Lula administration has made it clear that it intends to regulate in the foreseeable future. At time of writing, the exact timetable and content of the regulation is, to some extent, a mystery. That particular frustration notwithstanding, we should be grateful that there’s more than a good chance that this time it is happening for real, regardless of whether it’s because of the aforementioned Lady Luck, external economic circumstances, or all the shifts both the government and the industry have put in. I shall keep you all posted.