IN the 1990s, bingo seats far outnumbered electronic gambling devices at Oklahoma's tribal facilities. Today, you'll be hard-pressed to find an actual bingo hall in Oklahoma. Technological advances have changed the face of gambling in ways that have challenged regulators and even longtime gambling businesses. The pace of that change may accelerate with the growth of online gambling.
The shift from old-school bingo halls to casinos occurred because vendors produced electronic versions of bingo that closely resembled slot machines to the average person yet didn't run afoul of state and federal regulations.
Today, the growth of online gambling could threaten the future of physical casino sites while compounding regulatory headaches. So far, three states have legalized online gambling: Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware. The push to legalize online gambling is coming, in part, from existing casinos that have seen their on-site business decline.
In New Jersey, casinos in Atlantic City have struggled in recent years as other states legalized gambling and the recession caused some patrons to rein in spending. Total gambling revenue at Atlantic City casinos has fallen by more than 40 percent since 2006. That led those casinos to push for legalization of online gambling (which they now host), although New Jersey technically limits online gambling to players physically located within the state's borders.
Yet at the same time, Caesars Entertainment, which owns four Atlantic City casinos, warned that online gambling may have a negative impact on its brick-and-mortar locations. In a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, officials with Caesars wrote, “Online gaming may reduce customer visitation and spend in our traditional casinos in Nevada and New Jersey, which could have an adverse impact on our business and result of operations.”
This mirrors history in Oklahoma, where the growth of casinos left racetracks struggling for customers and wagers. By 2004, racetrack officials were backing an initiative (ultimately approved by Oklahoma voters) to allow expansion of tribal casino gambling in exchange for allowing racetracks to offer a limited number of casino games. Today, those games at “racinos” largely subsidize horse racing in Oklahoma even as the growth of casinos continues to challenge racetracks' long-term financial viability.