The pandemic was not very kind to many industries in 2020. One crystal-clear exception, however, was in online poker. While in-person poker and live casinos on the whole were dealt with sharp declines in business, numbers indicate that there was an online poker boom — to the tune of a 43% increase in traffic according to some analyses.
This makes perfect sense when you consider that entire populations were confined to their homes and looking for ways to entertain themselves. Nevertheless, that 43% number is fairly remarkable given the reputation of online poker in the U.S. While said reputation has not always been based on a sound understanding of circumstances, the widespread perception is that decent online poker opportunities are few and far between — simply because playing with real money is not allowed in most states. As of now though, it’s fair to say that there’s been a full-fledged resurgence of online poker.
The question now is what this might mean moving forward.
It’s likely that the core lasting impact of the poker resurgence will be sustained popularity for play-money opportunities. Despite the aforementioned misconceptions about online poker’s availability in the U.S., there have long been ways to play online poker with friends through apps and sites that use “play money.” Basically this means that there are apps and websites that look and feel like real-money platforms, but which simply use fake chips. These are the most widely accessible online poker options in the U.S., and more people are undoubtedly aware of them in light of the pandemic. It’s likely they’ll be more mainstream moving forward.
It is also at least possible that the poker boom we’ve seen in the last year will hasten the adoption of legal, real-money sites in states that don’t yet allow them. The legality of online gambling in the U.S. is actually a very complicated topic, but there is not a straightforward, federal ban on cash poker games. States are free to legalize and regulate real-money poker, and a few have already done so. It’s not far-fetched to think that the success those states have seen and the tax revenue they’ve brought in from gaming (particularly during the pandemic) might spur a few other states forward.
In theory, the same logic could lead to a gradual embrace of in-person casino activity as well. This activity exists only in a few states and in some American Indian territories, and there is currently less evidence for expansion in this space than in the online arena. Nevertheless, growing public interest in online poker — and clear, lucrative revenue at online sites — could well pressure state governments to reconsider their stances on in-person casinos and poker rooms.
Unfortunately it still seems like a long shot that we’ll see anything of this kind in Charleston anytime soon. While our city has plenty of activities that could blend with a casino venue — from unique bars, to beloved local restaurants, to magic acts and music performances — there’s really no hint of poker or gambling activity (at least not legally).
Broadly speaking though, the poker revival online holds the potential to open new doors. Perhaps a little farther down the road we’ll see more legal poker online and in person — and maybe even in Charleston.
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