Indiana residents could be playing online casino games legally as soon as Sep 1, 2023. But is that a realistic timeline? There are a lot of unknowns to consider.
Lawmakers in the Hoosier State are considering HB 1536, which would legalize “interactive gaming,” a.k.a. online casinos. Naturally, the first question on local lips is whether the bill is likely to pass. The second is: If it does pass, when will the first Indiana online casinos launch?
Neither question is straightforward to answer. However, in trying to answer the second, media outlets have been quick to latch onto the following passage in the bill:
A person holding an interactive gaming license issued under this chapter is authorized to conduct interactive gaming under this article beginning September 1, 2023.
At first glance, that appears straightforward enough. As of Sep 1, anyone holding a license can start offering online casino games.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t guarantee anyone will have a license by that date. In fact, that language doesn’t promise a September launch at all. Effectively, it only says that online casinos can’t launch before then, even if they have received their licenses from the regulator.
Put another way, online casino operators have two sets of hurdles to clear before launching in any market: legislative and regulatory. With some exceptions, most gaming bills only concern themselves with the former. The regulatory timeline is usually up to the regulator.
With that in mind, let’s take a clear-eyed look at the road ahead for the Indiana online casino effort.
Clearing the Legislative Hurdles
Before online casino operators can even start to worry about a launch date, they need the bill to pass. The likelihood of that depends on who you ask.
Last year’s Indiana online casino bill was dead almost on arrival. However, there was considerably more optimism coming into 2023. When Bonus looked at online gambling legislation odds for the year, two of our three experts considered Indiana a favorite to succeed.
That said, there’s still a lot of resistance to the idea and a limited window of time to change the necessary minds. Sentiment is already starting to turn more pessimistic, with BetMGM CEO Adam Greenblatt telling investors he doesn’t expect to see any iGaming efforts succeed this year.
The crossover deadline for the Indiana legislature is Feb. 28. That means that HB 1536 must pass in the House by the end of the month to have a chance. Currently, it’s still with the Committee on Public Policy and hasn’t returned to the floor for a vote.
Assuming it makes it out of the House, the Senate may prove to be the greater challenge. Senate President pro tempore Rodric Bray has voiced his opposition, and it’s tough for legislation to pass against the wishes of such a key figure.
How Long Does Online Casino Licensing Take?
Let’s assume, however, that the bill passes. If it does, it’s likely to be a buzzer-beater, as it doesn’t have overwhelming support at the moment.
The Indiana legislative session ends on April 27. That would leave just over four months for the Indiana Gaming Commission (IGC) to establish its rules, conduct all necessary testing, and issue operator and supplier licenses for a Sep 1 launch.
It would be unprecedented in the US for a regulator to manage all those steps in that time. The current record is four-and-a-half months, set by Connecticut. Nutmeg State lawmakers passed their online gambling bill on May 25, 2021, and Connecticut online casinos soft launched on Oct 12 that year.
However, that process was considerably simpler than most. Only the state’s two tribal gaming entities were allowed to operate an online casino, with only a single partner apiece. Typical timelines have been closer to a year in open, competitive markets. For instance, Michigan passed its omnibus gambling expansion package in December 2019 and launched its market in January 2021 after several delays.
Suppliers May Be the Bottleneck in Indiana
If Indiana hopes to set a record time from legalization to launch, it does have one thing going for it. It would be the first state with an established online sports betting market to create one for online casinos in a subsequent year.
Most – perhaps all – of the online casino operators would be the same entities already conducting sports wagering in the state. That would make operator licensing much easier. The companies already have a relationship with the regulator. There’d be no need to re-investigate everyone’s corporate history.
That said, an online casino market has multiple layers of licensing. In addition to operators, suppliers of casino platforms, games, and other technology all need licenses. Individual games also require testing to ensure their integrity, and the regulator needs to approve the third-party labs that conduct those tests. That portion of things is part of what took so long in Michigan.
So, fast-tracking the operators doesn’t guarantee a rapid launch for Indiana. It all depends on how quickly the necessary supplier testing and licensing can be done.
It does appear that the lawmakers behind the bill want to push the IGC to launch as quickly as possible. The bill requires the regulator to establish emergency rules for interactive gaming within 60 days if the bill passes.
That implies that the rules would be in place and licensing would begin by the end of June. Testing and licensing would then have to take place in about two months for a Sep 1 launch. That’s not a lot of time.
Launch Quickly or Launch Fully?
Impatient gamblers might hope for the IGC to treat that as a firm launch date. However, they might find themselves disappointed if it does. When it comes to regulatory timelines, there is a tradeoff between launching quickly and launching fully. The launches in Pennsylvania and Michigan serve as extreme examples of each.
The wait in Michigan was often frustrating for residents. The Michigan Gaming Control Board refused to set a hard date until things were almost ready. Until then, its estimates were vague and non-committal. Yet, when the market launched, it did so with nearly its full complement of operators, each offering a complete casino experience.
It had, perhaps, learned from Pennsylvania’s launch in 2019. There, the regulator set a hard launch date and adhered to it. However, it had only issued a fraction of the necessary licenses by the time the day rolled around. Pennsylvania gamblers were disappointed to find they had only two brands to choose from. Worse, each casino had only a handful of slots, plus roulette. It took weeks before blackjack became available and months for the first online poker room to appear.
So, will Indiana launch online casinos on Sep 1? It’s possible but unlikely. Moreover, if that does prove to be the launch date, players may end up wishing lawmakers and regulators had left themselves a little more time.