NV considers Internet poker bill, but casinos balk
Friday, March 11, 2011; 7:30 AM
CARSON CITY, Nev. -- Some Nevada lawmakers want the state to be the first to regulate the multibillion dollar, quasi-legal Internet poker industry. But with some of the most powerful casinos lining up against the proposal, the bill could be headed the direction of other recent federal and state efforts - a legislative grave.
The bill would ask state gambling regulators to create rules for Internet poker operators and companies that make related equipment. It would also specifically prevent the Nevada Gaming Commission from denying a license to popular existing poker sites - like PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker - just because they have been operating offshore in a legal gray area after a federal law effectively banned online gambling in 2006.
Alan Feldman, spokesman for MGM Resorts International, said the federal law needs to be fixed first.
"I think everyone's objective should be to get the proper bill passed, and to do so federally," he said. "The business model ought to be following sound public policy, and (the Nevada bill) is actually a pretty good model of getting a business model way far ahead of anyone's policy."
MGM Resorts, a publicly traded company that counts billionaire Kirk Kerkorian among its major investors, is Nevada's largest employer. But Feldman said the proposal introduced Thursday by Assemblyman William Horne is flawed.
"Online poker has been growing like gangbusters," said Horne, D-Las Vegas. "It will provide a new source of revenue that we aren't able to enjoy right now."
The bill opens up the possibility of partnerships between established Nevada casinos and major offshore poker operators, said Jeff Ifrah, a Washington D.C.-based lawyer who represents a Canada-based trade association for online casinos. But casino companies that oppose it would rather have exclusive competition than give players what they want, he said.
"If the state is serious about raising revenue for this endeavor, then it needs to be able to obtain the participation of the leading operators," said Ifrah, who represents the Interactive Gaming Council in litigation. The council counts PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker among its members.
"Those leading operators happen to be offshore," he said.
MGM Resorts has made no deals, but has been approached by many Internet poker companies about establishing a partnership to combine their know-how with MGM Resorts' brands, Feldman said.
The American Gaming Association, the casino industry's largest trade group, declined to comment on the bill.
But the world's largest gambling company, Caesars Entertainment Corp., immediately criticized it even though it has been pushing to legalize online poker in the United States.