By MICHELLE RINDELS
The Associated Press
Thursday, March 10, 2011; 6:11 PM
CARSON CITY, Nev. -- State lawmakers want Nevada to take the lead on regulating Internet poker, a move several legislatures are making after federal efforts to regulate the multibillion-dollar industry fell flat at the end of last year.
Assembly members introduced a bill Thursday that calls on Nevada gambling regulators to create rules for Internet poker operators and companies that make related equipment. It prohibits the Nevada Gaming Commission from denying a license to existing poker sites such as PokerStars, which have been operating in a legal gray area after a federal law effectively banned online gambling in 2006.
Sen. Harry Reid's effort to set federal regulations for the industry got support from the American Gaming Association, the nation's largest casino industry trade group, but died in December during Congress' lame duck session.
"The writing has been on the wall that if the federal government doesn't act to regulate Internet poker, then states will try to do so," said Reid spokesman Zac Petkanas.
Officials for the American Gaming Association declined to comment on the Nevada bill.
The bill's preamble says legal Internet poker could benefit Nevada's ailing economy, and it notes that technology could be used to limit the gambling to places where it is legal. The proposed regulations would have to guard against underage gambling and cheating and set standards that protect players' privacy.
The bill, AB258, would not make online casino games like blackjack and roulette legal, as players bet against the house. In poker, players gamble only against each other while the house takes a small fee from each pot for hosting the game. Poker proponents argue the game is more skill than luck.
Nevada legislators are not alone in their attempt to address the issue. New Jersey lawmakers passed a bill that would have made the state the first in the nation to legalize Internet gambling, but Gov. Chris Christie vetoed it last week.
Nevada's bill immediately drew criticism from the world's largest gambling company, Caesars Entertainment Corp., which has been pushing to legalize online poker in the U.S. Caesars owns the World Series of Poker, the game's richest and most popular series of card tournaments that draw thousands of players each year.
"Our focus is not intrastate, our focus is interstate," said Jan Jones, Caesars' senior vice president for communications and public relations. "It's federal, it's putting together an American, an appropriate regulation and licensing regime and taking the jobs and revenues going to foreign companies and bringing it back to America."
Caesars has a subsidiary that is pursuing online gambling in other countries where it is legal, and Nevada gambling regulators took a step Wednesday toward approving its relationship with a company that offers casino gambling online in Europe. The relationship must still be approved by the Nevada Gaming Commission.
Jones said the bill introduced Thursday isn't the right way to legalize online poker because it's state-only legislation.
"That's been our position in every state, and it's our position in Nevada as well," she said. "Internet, by its nature, is an interstate activity, and the rules should be crafted appropriately."
A draft of Reid's legislation included a provision that clearly favored brick-and-mortar casinos in the U.S. over sites like PokerStars and Full Tilt. The sites that currently offer online gambling to Americans were ordered to shut down or risk not being able to ever win a license.
Reid's camp on Thursday expressed support for overarching standards but wants to put the job to the Nevada regulating agency considered the most rigorous in the country.
"A federalized market - regulated by proven regulators like the Nevada Gaming Control Board and coupled with tough new measures to stop illegal Internet gambling - is the right way to go," Petkanas said.
Associated Press writer Oskar Garcia in Las Vegas contributed to this report.