Commentary by Guy Farmer: Online poker sites court Nevada politicians

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A few weeks ago I issued a warning about Assembly Bill 258, a bill passed by the 2011 Legislature that directs state gaming regulators to adopt rules and regulations and issue licenses to Nevada casinos if and when Congress approves Internet gambling. That's a terrible idea and I hope Congress holds the line against online poker.

Recent federal indictments against three online poker sites - PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker - didn't stop our state lawmakers from approving AB258 even though the indictments accused the Web sites of concocting "an elaborate criminal fraud scheme ... to assure the continued flow of billions in illegal gambling profits."

Fellow political columnist Jon Ralston said the companies "believed that for a relatively small investment ... (they) could undermine the system of gaming control in Nevada and circumvent a federal ban on Internet gambling." That sounds like fraud to me.

And what was that "relatively small investment" that Ralston wrote about? Well, we got a hint about that last week when the Las Vegas Sun revealed that the Poker Players Alliance, which has spent at least $3.7 million trying to convince Congress to legalize Internet gambling, held a fund-raiser for Congresswoman Shelley Berkley, D-Las Vegas, in Washington, D.C. just two days before Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, introduced a bill that would authorize the U.S. bank transactions necessary to permit online poker.

Ms. Berkley told Karen Demerjian of the Las Vegas Sun that the Washington fund-raiser was scheduled long before Barton told her about his online poker bill. According to Ms. Demerjian, the PPA seems to be favoring Berkley over newly minted Sen. Dean Heller, R-Carson City, in next year's race for the Senate seat vacated by the disgraced John Ensign.

"We don't comment on our political giving," said Alliance Executive Director William Pappas, who attended a June breakfast that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., hosted for Ms. Berkley where donations ranged from $1,000 to $2,500 per head. Well, that may be how business is done in Washington, but that doesn't make it right.

Earlier, before the 2011 Nevada Legislature convened, PokerStars paid for free international trips for three Las Vegas Democrats: Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, who attended an Internet gambling conference in the Bahamas, and Assemblymen Kelvin Atkinson and William Horne, who went to London "to see company products." What does that mean?

So it appears that the Alliance and the indicted companies are putting pressure on congressional Democrats to approve legislation that would permit Internet gambling, including online poker. On the other side of the aisle, Sen. Heller's press secretary has confirmed that the senator "continues to work with a number of groups, including the PPA, to find a workable solution to address Internet gaming in a way that benefits Nevada."

But I think our elected representatives should reject legislation that would undermine Nevada's strict and highly respected gaming control system by prohibiting the Gaming Commission from denying licenses to online poker companies. No thanks!

• Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, is a former state gaming control official.


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