- Countless regulations at the Federal and State level have been proven unnecessary during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- These unnecessary regulations hindered the response of the health care system to the pandemic and put additional burden on businesses and individuals.
- Nevada needs to eliminate in-person registration for online sports betting for the benefit of both their citizens and the gaming industry.
As any economist can tell you all transactions and interventions produce unintended benefits and/or harm to third parties. These are called ‘externalities’ and it’s a good term to know. If you want to simplify the concept: sometimes bad things come out of situations we originally perceive as good and sometimes good things come out of bad situations. One of the positive externalities of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the suspension of numerous rules and regulations at the Federal, state and local level in response to the situation. There are at least 621 examples of this (and counting) which begs the question “why did they exist in the first place?”
The Trump administration and state and local governments wisely suspended regulations to help fight the coronavirus.
Many of these rules and regulations were not necessary in the first place, given their tendency to reduce innovation and access to care, not to mention their restriction on American liberty.
Actually, you can make that 622 needless regulations (and counting). The state of Illinois has suspended the requirement for in-person registration for online sports betting accounts. As we’ve said any time a state makes the boneheaded decision to require in-person registration it does nothing positive while creating several ‘negative externalities’ for both players and the gaming industry.
To wit: gaming companies that have seen their source of revenue shut down by state and/or local mandate in the interest of public health need to bring in as much money as they can. In Nevada, Colorado and other states one of the few sources of gaming revenue has been via mobile sports betting apps. In Colorado, players can sign up online from anywhere in the state. In Nevada, players have to register in person at the sportsbook. That created a conundrum: how can players register inside a casino when that casino is shut down?
Gamblers in Illinois will be allowed to open online sports betting accounts without having to visit a local casino under an executive order signed by Governor JB Pritzker late last week.
The executive order is in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and resulting closure of land-based casinos in Illinois, which prevents players from registering online accounts in person, as required by the state’s sports betting legislation.
Lest we give too much credit to Illinois state government for taking this action the article notes that the state’s casinos have been closed since March 16. That’s nearly two months during which players could have enjoyed the much needed–and consistent with social distancing–diversion of sports betting. It’s also two months during which the state’s casinos and racetracks could have had at least a trickle of revenue. Alas, it took Illinois all this time to figure out that since casinos are closed it makes ‘in-person registration for online sports betting accounts unviable’.
Better late than never. At least two of Illinois racetracks are back in business. The Hawthorne harness track resumed racing this past weekend while Fairmount Park near St. Louis will resume live racing on Tuesday. Arlington Racecourse is still spinning their wheels but have at least changed their tune of late to consider an abbreviated 2020 meet without spectators. The racetracks won’t have live customers for the indefinite future and there’s no real indication as to when casinos could reopen. Illinois is currently in ‘Phase 3’ of their reopening plan and casinos are unlikely to open until ‘Phase 5’. So did Illinois learn a lesson about the ‘negative externalities’ of their pointless regulation requiring in-person registration for mobile sportsbook accounts? Guess again. The suspension is only good for the duration of the state’s disaster proclamations related to the coronavirus pandemic.
NEVADA NEEDS TO GET RID OF THEIR IN-PERSON REGISTRATION REQUIREMENT
It doesn’t reflect well on the State of Nevada that one of the worst managed states in the country have taken an action that they should have taken long ago. At the very least, they should have taken this action during the gaming industry shutdown. Nevada gaming revenues in April suffered a drop of 99.6% from the same month a year ago. The state unemployment rate is just under 30% and higher than that in the Las Vegas metro area. In fact, the Las Vegas metro area has suffered more unemployment than any large metro area in the US. The second highest unemployment rate–Detroit at 22%–is a vibrant labor market by comparison. It’s not good when your city is in worse shape economically than the city that is a metaphor for Rust Belt obsolescence.
The ‘in person registration’ requirement is based on the outdated rationale that anything that forces people to physically come into a casino is a good thing. This mindset should have died a couple of decades ago and it is definitely an anachronism in the COVID-19 pandemic era. Now the imperative is to get as many revenue streams as possible that don’t require being physically present inside the casino. Mobile sportsbetting is a perfect example of this. The in-person registration requirement does nothing now except make it more difficult for gaming companies to market and grow their sports betting apps. It’s also not good that a pointless regulation hurts gaming businesses’ bottom line unnecessarily. With gaming being such an integral part of Nevada’s economy it’s seriously self defeating.
There’s also the issue of ‘perception’. Nevada likes to think of itself as the ‘gold standard’ when it comes to gaming industry regulation. With the gaming industry still the primary catalyst of the Silver State economy that’s the way it should be and at various points throughout history it actually has been ‘the gold standard’. No secret that legal gambling is ubiquitous in the US now and Nevada is in serious danger of damaging their reputation as the country’s gaming capital. For an image conscious state that depends on tourism that’s not good. New Jersey now has a thriving community of companies that serve the gaming industry operating in the state. Upstart Colorado is already getting companies moving into the state due to their vibrant sports betting marketplace. There’s still a lot to like about Nevada in general and the Las Vegas area in particular but being ‘behind the times’ in regard to gaming regulation sends the wrong message.
MARKETS ROUTE AROUND OBSTACLES BUT IN THIS CASE THEY SHOULDN’T NEED TO
When the Nevada gaming industry shut down several sports betting apps were quickly up and running. MGM Resorts, Caesars Entertainment, William Hill and Circa Sports were the first four back online and they were joined by the Westgate and South Point near the end of May. Several of these companies figured out a way to satisfy the in-person registration requirement despite the casino closure. South Point, Circa Sports and William Hill all offered ‘drive thru’ registration leveraging the properties’ valet parking areas. Unfortunately, these three companies ran into another pointless regulatory barrier–they couldn’t cash winning tickets due to a regulation prohibiting employees to carry cash outside of the casino. In addition, deposits had to be ‘exact change only’.
No surprise that at least to some extent South Point, Circa and William Hill found a way to get around the ridiculous in-person registration requirement. That’s what markets do–they route around obstacles regulatory and otherwise. On a macro level, the fact that the national economy isn’t in worse shape than it is can be credited to the adaptability of markets:
A funny thing happened on the way to the next Great Depression. The government forcibly halted economic activity, shutting most Americans indoors and robbing millions of people of their chance to earn a living as a means to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Yet many of the nation’s economic indicators remain remarkably steady.
The market is rapidly adjusting to—and I despise using this term— the New Normal. Everything is volatile, but there’s no indication of a repeat of 2008’s meltdown.
Reason Magazine goes on to remind us what markets are and the purpose they serve:
In reality, markets are simply the sum total of the myriad decisions made by individuals. In a relatively free economy, people adjust their behavior based on their own priorities. We bid for things we want. If I’m eyeing a house that is worth $400,000 to me, but someone is willing to pay $425,000 for it, then that buyer gets it. If I’m selling a house for $400,000 and the best offer that I get is $375,000, then that’s what it’s worth in the market.
“Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself,” wrote free-market economist Milton Friedman. It’s not about greed, but freedom. “Is there some society you know that doesn’t run on greed?” Friedman asked. “What is greed? Of course, none of us are greedy, it’s only the other fellow who’s greedy. The world runs on individuals pursuing their separate interests.”
When government tries to ameliorate “greed,” it only distorts individual choices by artificially limiting (or increasing) supply or demand. Even with such distortions, markets are amazingly nimble. Plus, government officials and the groups that elect and lobby lawmakers are just as greedy as anyone else. More so actually, given that these groups will use the power of government, rather than the principles of free exchange, to get what they want.
Markets are indeed beautiful things. But lest we forget, Nevada’s gaming industry is still the center of their economy. It drives tourism, fills hotels and supports countless ancillary businesses. The marketplace did it’s best to ‘find a way’ but given the critical role that gaming plays in the Nevada economy that shouldn’t have been necessary. The Nevada Gaming Control board has shown impressive flexibility and responsiveness during the pandemic. Hopefully, that will continue now that their licensees are trying to retool their business to enforce social distancing. Of course the state’s gaming regulators might not need to act if Governor Steve Sisolak could change this with the stroke of a pen. No matter how it happens it needs to get done and Nevada needs to eliminate the in-person registration requirement and allow players to sign up remotely as soon as possible.