Legal Online Gambling States Take Notice as Offshore Sites Rise in Google Searches

Gamblers Daily Digest -

As the legal online gambling market continues to expand across the United States, established operators in regulated states are taking notice of a growing threat from offshore sites appearing higher in search engine results. A review of search data reveals that these offshore operators, licensed and based overseas, have seen significant increases in traffic from American players seeking online casino games and sports betting action.

With just over a dozen states having launched regulated online gambling to date, many players in the remaining jurisdictions still seeking legal options often end up at offshore sites due to their prominence in search engine result pages or SERPs. 

Search data provided to this outlet shows search terms like “online casino US” or “US betting sites” frequently yield offshore operators as top results. This presents challenges for states aiming to keep gambling activity under the purview of their gaming commissions.

Many offshore gambling websites focus on attracting players from nations where online casino wagering is prohibited or unlawful, but they frequently take advantage of American bettors as well.

Offshore sites rising in search rankings

An analysis of Google search trends shows that searches for offshore gambling operators are up considerably in many legal online gambling states. Sites like Bovada and BetOnline, licensed in Panama and Curacao, respectively, have seen search volumes for their names increase over 50% year-over-year in states like New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.

At the same time, searches containing terms meant to find legal and regulated options within a given state, such as “NJ online casino” or “PA betting apps”, remain relatively flat. This indicates that while interest in online gambling has grown, efforts to steer players to licensed state operators are not matching the promotional efforts of offshore brands.

With enormous demand from players nationwide, offshore sites have invested heavily in search engine optimization (SEO) and marketing campaigns that target broad search terms without geographical limitations. As a result, they often outrank state-licensed operators in SERPs for searches originating from within regulated jurisdictions. This makes overseeing gambling activity and protecting consumers more difficult for state gaming authorities.

Players are urged to use online forums and peer-review sites like Gamblescope to sniff out unlicensed offshore sites and do their part in ending the scourge of illegal online gambling.

Concerns rise over unregulated offshore access

Representatives from gaming commissions in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and other states expressed concerns about the rising presence of unregulated offshore sites in this publication. They note that without proper oversight, these sites leave players vulnerable to risks like fraud, identity theft, problem gambling, and involvement with criminal elements.

According to one Michigan Gaming Control Board official, the proliferation of offshore betting sites creates an environment with increased potential for exploitation in the form of fraud, money laundering, and other risks. This is because those offshore operators fall outside regulations applied to licensed sportsbooks.

Some states, including Michigan, have spearheaded a multi-state initiative petitioning the federal Department of Justice. Their request urges investigation into the improper offshore operators that are aggressively and illicitly courting American bettors into using their platforms. Without oversight, these sites can more easily enable problematic activities.

While search engines claim to be neutral platforms, some experts argue they bear responsibility for prominently surfacing unregulated gambling sites. With search serving as a primary traffic driver, states may push for partnerships that help licensed operators rank higher for relevant search terms or label offshore sites more clearly. Balancing consumer safety with commercial interests will remain an ongoing challenge as the legal market matures.

The risks of unlicensed gambling operators

Online casinos operating without proper licensing and regulation pose significant risks to players. With no oversight, these sites have no obligation to offer fair games, payout winnings, or promote responsible gambling.

Since illegal operators fall outside government monitoring, players have nowhere to turn if issues arise. Without accountability measures, players face potential fraud and abuse.

Only six US states have legalized real-money online gambling: New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Connecticut, Delaware and West Virginia. For players in other states, internet casinos constitute unlawful activity.

Even within these states, how can bettors be sure a gaming site is properly sanctioned? Reputable platforms display licensing credentials from state regulatory bodies. Legal online casinos also exhibit “responsible gambling” badges reflecting oversight procedures. Checking the licensed operator lists published by state agencies can further validate an internet casino’s legitimacy.

Some offshore sites base operations in jurisdictions like Curacao, Gibraltar, and Malta while illicitly serving the US market without proper licensing. These destinations enable looser regulatory standards that legal American venues must follow.

While individual bettors won’t be prosecuted, unlicensed iGaming operators face legal repercussions for breaching state laws. Without oversight, these platforms put consumers at risk and undermine responsible gambling initiatives.

States are taking action

Despite state-level legalization, offshore gambling platforms like Bovada still rank highly in search engine results across regulated US markets, which saw close to $100 billion sports handle last year, according to the American Gaming Association. Regulators emphasize avoiding these unlicensed sites.

Lacking enforcement authority, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board relies on the state Attorney General’s Office to investigate offshore platforms violating laws. However, the Board endorses GeoComply’s Bettor Safe initiative to educate consumers on illegal gambling risks. GeoComply also runs a Pennsylvania-specific PA Safe program.

Similarly, Michigan Gaming Control Board spokesperson Anna Kelly noted that while Michigan oversees legal internet gaming, the agency helps federal authorities pursue offshore platforms illegally courting state residents. She reiterated that the Board lists approved online gambling operators to simplify verification.

Kelly added that the MGCB tackled reports of unlawful gaming seriously. Michigan citizens suspecting an illegal operation should contact the Board through a dedicated phone line, email address, or website form to share tips anonymously. Regulators emphasize avoiding unvetted offshore platforms to ensure fair, above-board wagering activities.

Wrapping Up

Despite the progress made by legal states, combating the appeal of offshore sites necessitates a comprehensive strategy that focuses on educating consumers, enforcing regulations effectively, and establishing competitive legal structures. Through a commitment to responsible oversight and promoting transparency and reliability, states with legal online gambling can solidify their presence in the competitive market and guarantee a secure and pleasurable gaming environment for their citizens.

Author: Bryan Cook