Retail, Digital Gaming: Two Sides of One Industry

When illegal casinos come for the players of legal bricks-and-mortar casinos, jurisdictions need to consider the policy goals in place when those casinos were legalized in the first place, says Michael Pollock.

Retail, Digital Gaming: Two Sides of One Industry

What do “horseless carriages” and “filmless photography” have in common? In addition to their archaic etymologies, they share a common vision, or better yet, a common lack of vision.

Those who endeavor to label industries by what they are not, rather than what they are, are clearly not fans of those particular technological advances. Consider that the company that first considered investing in “filmless photography” was none other than Eastman Kodak. Consider that the dominant manufacturer of horse-drawn carriages was the Collins Manufacturing Co. Kodak stock at least still trades. Collins, not so much.

The casino industry is not immune to the phenomenon of industries being labeled by what they are not. One moniker that has never fully caught on but is still being used is to view the casino industry as “offline gambling.”

Consider the following quote from a 2019 article in a publication called MintDice:

“Unlike offline gambling, where you need to travel to the physical casino, online betting can be done right from the comfort of your place. All you require is a system and a working internet connection. The convenience of betting from home saves you a lot of time, effort, and money. Moreover, you can start the betting process at any point in time, which might not be the case with offline gambling. This convenience finds favor, especially with the younger generation who are now used to doing anything and everything online. Casinos offer the facility of paying by cryptocurrency, transactions related to your money and funds also remain untracked. The payment through the digital coin is increasingly becoming popular among gamers contributing significantly to the popularity of online gambling.”

Or how about the following 2021 quote from a publication called Vents Magazine:

“Playing at an offline casino requires interaction with other players, which means you do not get any identity privacy. In contrast, gambling in casino online mode aims to safeguard the gambler’s rights and personal details. The payment method, the account details, and all others you do not want to share with other players will be kept safe.”

While it is unlikely that either MintDice or Vents will be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize anytime soon, these non-traditional publications do give voice to an up-is-down viewpoint that is very real, and it’s safe to assume that their audience includes more than one non-regulated provider (yes, sometimes it is quite appropriate to identify an entity by what it is not) and perhaps more than one illegal provider.

The use of “offline gambling” has been used by serious publications as well, including academic research papers. Still, whether they are referred to as “offline casinos,” “retail casinos” or “brick-and-mortar casinos,” the point is the same. In a world where digital commerce is ascendant, the risk is that physical casinos can be viewed as having a less-than-optimal future, and such views can affect policy decisions.

From the standpoint of public policy, the interests of physical casinos need to be woven like threads into a jurisdiction’s goals. Policies can, should and will differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but policymakers in every market need to consider a wide range of scenarios when weighing the economic impacts and identifying the policies of gaming: Is the goal to promote tourism, increase employment, generate tax revenue, redevelop an urban center, or some combination of these or other goals?

When such questions are fully considered, it is clear that the roughly 1,000 commercial and tribal casinos spread across the United States are not a non-digital or offline industry, but rather represent tools to address multiple policy goals.

Notably, the industries that were initially characterized as what they are not ultimately prevailed and became dominant, and that will likely take place in gaming, but the risk is that, as this industry evolves, policymakers need to adopt a mindset that physical casinos are not the past, but are the foundation for the future with an essential role to play in advancing public policy. Consider them for what they are: Licensed entities that provide a particular form of authorized entertainment that spans multiple verticals.

Policymakers at all levels need to recognize that digital and retail forms of gaming are two sides of a singular goal: Developing, enhancing and maintaining an industry that stays relevant in ways that are profitable and that operate in the public interest.

Articles by Author: Michael Pollock

Michael Pollock is managing director of Spectrum Gaming Group, a non-partisan consultancy that specializes in the economics, regulation, and policy of legalized gambling worldwide. Spectrum has provided independent research and professional services to gaming operators, regulators, and legislatures in 40 U.S. states and territories and in 48 countries on six continents. Spectrum's clients include 22 U.S. state and territory governments, six national governments, 22 Native American entities, numerous gaming companies (national and international) of all sizes, suppliers, lotteries, financial institutions, developers, and other gaming-related entities. Spectrum also serves as executive director of the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States (NCLGS)