Gambling lobbyist says Nevada casinos face triple threat

RENO, Nev. (AP) - The gambling industry's top lobbyist warned Nevada casinos Wednesday they face a triple threat from gambling on the Internet, tribal casinos in California and the NCAA's effort to ban betting on college sports.

''There are a couple of things on the horizon in Washington that will challenge not only the hotel-casino industry, but challenge the entire health of northern Nevada's economy,'' said Frank Fahrenkopf, Jr., president and chief operating officer of the American Gaming Association.

Congress is poised to outlaw Internet gambling, which would be a significant victory for the industry, Fahrenkopf said in a speech to about 700 business leaders at an economic conference.

But he foresees an uphill battle against congressional forces determined to back the NCAA's call for an end to betting on college sports in Nevada sports books.

And he expects Indian casinos will become a competitive force in California within the next few years.

''I believe very soon - maybe in three or four years - there will be an Indian casino in northern California somewhere near Auburn on Interstate 80 and probably another one on U.S. Highway 50,'' said Fahrenkopf.

''If you live in California and like to gamble and you could stop in Auburn and not have to put those chains on (to cross the Sierra Nevada in snowy weather) - it is a tremendous threat,'' he said.

Fahrenkopf, the former chairman of the national Republican Party and longtime ally of President Reagan, said the NCAA's push to ban betting on college sports in Nevada appears to be gaining support in Congress.

It is being led by ''a conservative Republican from Kansas, Sam Brownback, and a liberal Democrat from Vermont, Patrick Leahy,'' Fahrenkopf said.

''The choice will be, 'You can support our young people in the NCAA or you can support those gamblers,''' he said.

Typically, Fahrenkopf said, he builds coalitions with other states where forms of gambling are legal to help beat back new federal restrictions or prohibitions.

''This time Nevada stands alone, because we're the only state that has this,'' he said. ''It is going to be tough. It is a deep, deep concern I have.''

Fahrenkopf said he expects the House this year to pass a Senate-approved bill banning gambling on the Internet. He said 300 to 400 Web sites are currently in operation, allowing gamblers to wager using credit card accounts.

''That's going to be illegal,'' he said.

That's extremely important because of increasing competition for America's entertainment dollar, he said.

He pointed to the merger of America Online and Time-Warner as the beginning of the wave of the future, where ''most Americans can sit in front of their television and see ever movie every made, use the computer, shop and order groceries ...''

Gov. Kenny Guinn and William Fruth, president of POLICOM Corp. of Jupiter, Fla., were among the others who addressed the 'Directions 2000 conference, hosted by the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Authority of Nevada at the University of Nevada, Reno's Lawlor Events Center.

As someone raised in Reno, Fahrenkopf said he understands when people tell him they don't want the city to turn into another Las Vegas.

''I would rather see California as a role model with Los Angeles and San Francisco - two very dynamic cities and economies, but as different as night and day,'' he said.

''We have tremendous advantages in northern Nevada - the mountains, the river running through town, Lake Tahoe.''

''I don't have the answers, I just have the challenges,'' he said.


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