Across the nationwide casino industry, land-based properties are taking steps to safeguard staff and customers using a combination of common sense, protective equipment and new technology such as heat censor cameras, but many regulators and authorities have yet to correctly temperature check the online industry, specifically online casino.
Global online gaming growth has soared in the last decade with the sector valued at more than $50 billion in 2019 and was expected to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 11.5% from 2020 to 2027 pre-pandemic. In the US alone, online gambling is predicted to reach a value of more than $100 billion by 2025.
Much of this, however, does not account for the unlicensed black market with only five states including Delaware, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, opening up regulated online gaming, also known as igaming, since the repeal of the PASPA legislation in August 2018 allowed states to determine their own laws. Meanwhile, 17 US states have regulated sports betting.
'Online casino' searches surge
Since the start of the year, BonusFinder.com has undertaken several pieces of research that have revealed that searches for the term 'online casino' are rapidly growing across the country, thereby having an instant impact on the growth of the black market across the US.
In June, we released data showing that weekly searches for unlicensed, offshore online casino brands have risen by 42% in the last 12 months with volumes for the largest black market site more than three times higher than for 'online casino'.
Using Google Trends data between May 2019 and May 2020, we found that searches for the term 'online casino' have climbed by 149% in the last year and 37% in the first five months of 2020.
BonusFinder.com discovered a total of 38 unlicensed sites operating and targeting US players, with one of the largest black-market brands regularly recording search volumes more than three times higher than generic searches for 'online casino' across the entire country.
At a time when the country finds itself facing record unemployment and a potential long-term recession, searches for unlicensed brands were found to have increased by 42% (excluding searches for one the largest unnamed offshore brands).
Our previous nationwide US data set in March, released just as large parts of the globe were entering lockdowns, uncovered a 100% rise in daily player searches for 'online casino' from February to the end of March this year following land-based venues switching off slot machines and sports events being rescheduled.
The tipping point came on 12th March when more US players searched for 'online casino' than 'sports betting' with numbers doubling in the following two weeks.
Fast tracking regulated online casino
A regulated US online casino sector exists but it has been far slower to emerge than online sports betting. Now, however is arguably the ideal time to address this to both reduce black market expansion and instead channel players to safer, regulated sites where games are certified and responsible gaming is paramount.
The reasons why safe and responsible igaming legislation should be fast tracked in more states is evident. There is a clear appetite for online casino across the US, but equally a clear and present danger that the offshore market is scooping up players in large volumes due to the lack of choice and availability across most of the country.
As our data has shown, this worrying rise in searches for unlicensed sites should be setting off alarm bells within state regulators' offices. Player safety is more at risk than ever, particularly as the country emerges from lockdown; as the dangers of a series of second spikes become more apparent by the day and many players remain isolated at home as a result; and millions of citizens face long-term economic hardship, placing them further at risk.
States take action
State regulated online casino markets have been proven to work with robust and responsible frameworks in place to protect players, while also showing that online and offline casinos can operate together and consistently generate healthy returns. Of the five states that have chosen to regulate online casino, New Jersey has made the most headway generating $482.7 million in igaming Gross Gaming Revenue (GGR) in 2019 and $52m post-pandemic in February 2020. And all this with an arguably immature offering. Given more time, more providers, more content, and more focus on channeling players to regulated sites New Jersey and other states will prosper further.
The message is clear. The black market is targeting US online casino players more than ever, and players are falling prey to unlicensed activities with little or no safety measures in place. This is dangerous at the best of times, but the US, like many countries, is facing unprecedented economic challenges and many individuals have become more vulnerable to black market targeting.
From our research, demand will only continue to increase as this extraordinary situation continues, therefore now is the time to focus on providing best-in-class, regulated real-money online casino games that players can enjoy responsibly and that can also help state governments make up revenue shortfalls.
The regulated online casino industry has the tools, technology, and expertise to provide US players with proven products they can enjoy responsibly, safe in the knowledge that player protection is the number one priority.