Guy W. Farmer: Nevada needs to be 'all out' regarding online poker

I commend Gov. Brian Sandoval for deciding to resurrect the long-dormant Gaming Policy Committee "to discuss issues related to technology and the modernization of the gaming industry." Translation: The governor wants expert advice on what to do about online poker, a thorny and controversial issue for Nevada's gaming regulators.

If you've read my previous columns on this issue, you know that I hope the Policy Committee will slam the door in the face of the dubious characters who operate online poker. As a former Gaming Commission chairman, Gov. Sandoval certainly realizes the nearly impossible task of regulating online gambling to keep the crooks out.

Sandoval recognized the magnitude of this challenge when he announced that the Gaming Policy Committee will meet early next year for the first time in nearly 30 years. "We're entering a new era in gaming history," he said in a news release. "I intend ... to assure it is as successful and secure as the last 80 years have been." Make that 50 years because Nevada really didn't make a serious effort to control the gambling industry and kick the hoodlums out until Gov. Grant Sawyer took office in 1959.

Back to online poker: As you may know, the U.S. Justice Department has charged three major online poker websites - PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker - with bank fraud, money-laundering and other illegal gambling offenses. In addition, Full Tilt has been accused of running a $440 million Ponzi scheme. Do we really want to associate ourselves with these kinds of operators? I certainly hope not.

To add to Full Tilt's troubles, British Channel Islands gaming control authorities revoked the company's gambling license in September on grounds that it had misled officials about its financial operations.

Even though Nevada's largest casinos may front online poker, you know who'll be lurking in the background because they have the "experience" needed to operate this Ponzi scheme. It's also instructive to note the close connection between Internet gambling lobbyists and the politicians who will vote on this issue in Washington.

The American Gaming Association (AGA) and the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) have donated large sums of money to state and federal politicians, including four members of Nevada's congressional delegation: Sens. Harry Reid and Dean Heller, and Reps. Shelley Berkley and Joe Heck. To their credit, all of them have pledged to donate those tainted campaign contributions to charities.

Reid, another former Gaming Commission chairman, favors legalization of online poker because "it will create jobs, lots of jobs." A Las Vegas hotel/casino, the South Point, has already created a free online poker Web site and Caesar's has been operating a free site for two years through the World Series of Poker, which it owns. But I urge Gov. Sandoval and the Gaming Policy Committee to put a stop to the creeping legalization of online poker because it can never meet the high standards of Nevada's strict gaming control system.

• Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, was a state gaming control official during the 1960s.


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