The restrictions put in place by COVID-19 have destroyed revenue streams for casinos in Las Vegas and around the world, but given the restrictions on personal betting, online gambling is encountering new revenue jackpots.
And experts warn that pandemic conditions have created a perfect framework for bad decisions for those looking to push the boundaries of responsible gambling.
What does this mean for states like Utah, a state that has a centuries-old general ban on gambling and tightened restrictions on online gambling about a decade ago?
Data compiled by the American Gaming Association shows that total commercial gaming revenue in the United States for the first 10 months of 2020 totaled $ 24 billion. This represents a decrease of 33% over the same period in 2019. Of that revenue, more than $ 19 billion came from Person Casino players last year.
The Wall Street Journal reports that gross income from online casino games more than tripled during this period. Total sales were still comparatively only 1.23 billion US dollars. Sports betting, including online sports betting, grew 39% to over $ 957 million.
Five states – New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Delaware, and Michigan – have legalized online casinos, including digital versions of slots and roulette, while Nevada restricted online casino games to poker.
Patrons will place personal bets during the Michigan legalized sports betting launch at the MGM Grand Detroit Casino in Detroit on March 11, 2020. Online sports betting and casino gaming began on Friday, January 22, 2021 at 12:00 PM in Michigan, expanding options for players who are now betting on offshore sites.
Paul Sancya, Associated Press
A 2012 update of the law to Utah's Complete Restriction of Gambling, the principles of which are enshrined in the Utah Constitution, aimed to expressly prohibit any advances in online gambling ahead of anticipated changes at the federal level.
While this suggestion was easily adopted, even a very simple internet search currently offers Utah residents several ways to play casino-style games and place bets on sporting events for real money.
Utah-specific information available on many of these websites indicates that online gambling is illegal for citizens, but it usually also includes statements such as the following, taken verbatim from a gambling website:
Answer to the question “Is sports betting legal in Utah?”: “No. Utah is one of two US states (besides Hawaii) that prohibit all forms of gambling. Even so, Utah sports bettors still gamble on offshore online bookmaking sites, while Utah law enforcement does not pursue residents who gamble online. "
And in response to “Are Online Casinos Legal in Utah?” “Online casino players can play online at offshore casino websites without prosecution, but online gambling is a legal gray area. In Utah, like all other forms of gambling, online casinos are banned. Law enforcement does not have the resources to enforce an online gambling ban. "
It is impossible to know how many Utahns will take such statements to heart and get into the online gambling battle. In states where online gambling is legal, there are technology tools like geofencing that can determine exactly where an online gamer is logging in to ensure that the phone or computer is the weather in the state is located.
This leaves offshore operations outside of US jurisdiction boundaries aimed at American gamblers.
Does Utah Track Online Gamblers?
The Utah Attorney General stated that while enforcement against individual online gamers is challenging, the agency is working to comply with state gambling bans.
"Utahns who deal with gambling sites on the Internet are against the law," said a statement from the office. “The Attorney General's Office has had numerous successes in enforcing gambling laws in recent years. We work with local law enforcement whenever we can to tackle slot machines. These efforts continue even though resources are scarce for all law enforcement agencies during the COVID-19 pandemic. "
The attorney general said it was unable to provide data on how many people were prosecuted in Utah over the past year for engaging in online gambling sites. They found that the obstacles for investigators are beyond their jurisdiction.
"State, state, and local law enforcement agencies here and in other states have the same problem with online gambling," it said in a statement. "Connections are usually people who gamble undetected and unnoticed within their own four walls, and online gambling site providers could be located anywhere in the world."
And the Salt Lake County Prosecutor's Office said that when it comes to hunting weather online it is a job that is outside of their jurisdiction.
"The Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office regularly pursues illegal gambling cases," the statement said. "In general, however, online gambling is an area that is being investigated by federal and state agencies."
Unlike Hawaii, the only other state with a similar all-inclusive ban on gambling, Utah has a long frontier with a state that introduced legal gambling and for which it is a primary economic engine.
This has resulted in Nevada suffering the worst of the consequences of the conditions and restrictions created by COVID-19, with casinos there being completely closed for more than two months at the start of the pandemic and only recently returning on a customer basis.
The Utah weather is a big contributor to the coffers of Nevada-based gaming establishments, and it is estimated that Beehive State residents generate up to 90% of the revenue generated in border casino towns like Wendover.
Traffic moves past casinos in West Wendover, Nevada on Friday, September 21, 2012.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Data from the Nevada Gaming Control Board suggests that gamers in Utah may also help protect Wendover casinos from the worst effects of COVID-19. Wendover Gaming Operations posted revenue of more than $ 36 million in July and August last year – a decrease of only 6% from 2019 – while the Las Vegas Strip casinos increased their collective revenues by around 40 over the same two-month period % decreased.
Pandemic increase in addiction, depression
Gaming industry group CDC Gaming reported in March that the conditions created by the pandemic have created circumstances that can exacerbate the problems for those facing gambling addiction.
The group notes that almost all of the factors believed to contribute to gambling damage, including depression and anxiety, are now in augmented or augmented action thanks to the public health crisis.
Many people who have already struggled with gambling addiction now have more time and are stuck at home due to local or national government restrictions. These conditions can lead to deeper feelings of isolation and separation, which “can lead to a dramatic increase in depression, boredom and loneliness. Some may see online gambling as a "way out". Others may desperately want to "make up" for the loss of income. "
Lin and Aaron Sternlicht of New York-based therapy group Family Addiction Specialist report that the increasing number of people seeking help fighting pandemic gambling addiction is creating new challenges for therapists and the gambling industry.
"Current evidence suggests that the number of people who have both psychological and addiction-related problems is increasing," the Sternlichts recently published on a blog. "The data suggests that there has been a significant increase in online gambling, forcing policy leaders, gambling councils and the industry itself to limit the frequency of wagering and the amount that can be wagered on, as well as advertising, which can be set to restrict gambling. "
The National Council on Problem Gambling said that uncertainty about the pandemic and job change may exacerbate individual health risks, and that financial pressures may also play a role. Additionally, access to treatment providers such as professional counselors or self-help meetings may be restricted due to social distancing and personal illness.
The Salt Lake chapter of Gamblers Anonymous had to cancel some of its weekly meetings for public health reasons, but saw an increase in participants in their online groups being replaced with face-to-face support.
The Salt Lake County Sheriff's detectives are processing computers that were used in an internet gambling establishment at 749 E. 3300 South on January 15, 2008.
Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
And the pace of online gambling can make it even easier and faster for those with problems to lose a lot of money in no time.
Dennis Conrad, a veteran gaming industry consultant, told Deseret News that there was a time when major casino operators shunned and criticized the emergence of online gambling. But, he said, even before the pandemic, there was a trend underway among large U.S. gambling companies to expand their brick and mortar casino portfolios by developing or acquiring online gambling businesses.
And it's only accelerating since COVID-19 slammed the doors of casinos across the country.
"In the past few years, and particularly since the pandemic, companies have moved into the online version of the business," Conrad said. "They stopped saying online gambling was a big, ugly thing, they were doing their own thing."
Conrad said repeating the personal gambling experience at table games like poker or roulette or machine games like slots has been a fairly seamless process for operators who have moved into the digital arena. One big difference, however, is how fast these games can move in their online versions.
"A good example is a slot machine whose physical version can last seven or eight seconds in the physical version," said Conrad. "I didn't plan it, but the online version is just a matter of seconds.
"In a real game of poker, you usually wait for at least one player to play slowly or not know how to use their cards and that slows the game down. When you're online, none of that happens and the game moves a lot faster. Some People will hang up their credit cards and blow the whole thing through in a day. "
The Utah Department of Health estimates that more than 2% of Utah adults or more than 60,000 residents may have a problem gambling.
Anyone facing personal challenges with gambling can contact the National Problem Gambling Helpline at 800-522-4700. Additional resources are also available through Gamblers Anonymous at www.gamblersanonymous.org.
A woman sits at a slot machine in a casino in Las Vegas on November 8, 2020. According to a national group from the casino industry, the coronavirus pandemic reduced US gambling revenue by 31% in 2020 compared to the previous year.
Wong Maye-E, Associated Press