Casino trade group supports Reid’s Internet poker bill
LAS VEGAS (AP) – The commercial casino industry’s top trade group said Friday that it supports efforts by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to fully legalize Internet poker.
The American Gaming Association said the bill Reid’s pushing includes solid oversight and consumer protections.
“Current online gambling laws do not provide these safeguards, leaving players and the system open to fraud, cheating and other illegal acts,” Frank Fahrenkopf, the group’s chief executive, said in a statement.
The association, based in Washington, D.C., represents the interests of the nation’s more than 440 commercial casinos, which account for more than half the gambling revenue generated in the United States.
The bill already faces opposition from some Republican leaders.
Analyst Bill Lerner of Union Gaming Group told investors this week that the measure would have to pass before the current Congress ends its session next week and Republicans take control.
Reid, D-Nev., said in a statement Thursday that his bill would, for the first two years, allow Internet poker to be offered only by existing casino companies – either commercial casinos already approved by various states or licensees approved by American Indian tribes.
Smaller casinos have expressed concerns that allowing Internet poker would cut into their business.
The association – acknowledging varying opinions among its members – has not previously backed any of several federal bills aimed at legalizing and regulating online gambling.
Most online gambling became illegal in 2006 with a new federal law prohibiting banks and credit card companies from making payments to gambling websites. The law included exceptions for fantasy sports, horse racing and state lotteries.
Reid’s bill would require licensees to accept only American players for the first three years and offer stronger oversight of the multibillion dollar industry.
The measures take clear aim at sites like PokerStars and Full Tilt, which have customers internationally but have also allowed Americans to gamble on their sites since 2006.
Reid is proposing that sites now offering online gambling would have to shut their American operations within 30 days of the bill’s passage or risk being barred from ever winning a license.
An association spokesman declined to comment on the specifics of the bill.
The bill would not make it legal to bet on casino games like blackjack and roulette where the house wagers against players. In poker, players gamble only against each other, and proponents argue it is based more on skill than luck.
Reid did not offer support for online betting on games besides poker, which make far more money for brick-and-mortar casinos.
“I still have serious concerns about legalizing the broad range of casino-type gambling through the Internet,” Reid said in a statement Thursday. “The bill I am working on would make other types of Internet gambling clearly illegal, while increasing penalties and strengthening the ability of law enforcement to shut down illegal sites.”
Lerner said MGM Resorts International, one of Reid’s strongest corporate supporters, stands to benefit from the bill’s passage and could generate $100 million to $200 million annually from related earnings if it goes through.
“The combination of a large player database, multiple highly recognizable brands and a significant number of physical venues should translate to an important critical mass of players online and therefore disproportionate share,” Lerner said.