"No matter what Congress does, based on the growth trends ... and the actions of the various states, it's no longer a matter of if online gambling will be legalized in the U.S., but when, where and how."
David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, called passage of online betting regulations "inevitable at the state level" in the U.S.
"At the federal level, it's a toss-up," he said.
Several local Las Vegas casinos have been licensed by Nevada regulators and are within weeks of beginning to accept online bets from state residents.
Nevada and Delaware began taking steps to allow online betting after the U.S. Justice Department last December narrowed the application of the federal Interstate Wire Act of 1961 only to sports wagering. Several casinos have been licensed in Nevada to offer online poker to residents within the state. Meanwhile, Illinois has begun selling lottery tickets online.
"We know there will be more states to come," Fahrenkopf said, including California and New Jersey.
Massachusetts is developing a regulatory structure for gambling, he said, and new properties are opening in other states, including Illinois. Voters in Oregon, Rhode Island and Maryland will decide gambling initiatives Nov. 6.