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Efforts to legalize online poker in the U.S. pick up steam

Casino companies and Nevada state legislators are making more moves toward legalizing online poker.

March 26, 2011|By Stephen Ceasar, Los Angeles Times
  • A man plays poker on his computer connected to an Internet gaming site from his home.
A man plays poker on his computer connected to an Internet gaming site from… (Karen Bleier / AFP/Getty…)

The often stop-and-go efforts to legalize online poker in the United States gained some steam in Nevada this week, as state lawmakers began considering legislation on the issue, a casino company joined the world's top online poker website in a push for federal action, and gambling regulators for the first time approved a plan by the world's largest casino company to offer online wagering overseas.

On Thursday, Nevada gambling regulators approved a business relationship between Caesars Entertainment Corp. and 888 Holdings PLC, a Gibraltar company that operates online casinos in Britain.

Under the deal, Caesars and 888 will be allowed to operate online gambling websites in Britain and other jurisdictions while using the Caesars brand.

The partnership is the first time the Gaming Control Board has entertained an application with an Internet gaming company, Chairman Mark Lipparelli said.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, state lawmakers convened in Carson City for a hearing on legislation that would make online poker legal for Nevada residents. But that measure faces significant opposition from the casino industry. Industry giants — such as Caesars Entertainment and MGM Grand Resorts — have made it clear that they would prefer federal, and not state, regulation of online gambling.

"I'd be willing to bet that no major gaming legislation has ever passed in Nevada that has been opposed by the state's largest casinos," said I. Nelson Rose, a Whittier Law School professor and expert in gambling law.

Alan Feldman, a spokesman for MGM Resorts, said the regulation must happen at the federal level. "Otherwise we end up with a patchwork of rules and regulations," he said.

Illustrating a preference for federal action, Wynn Resorts Ltd. announced Thursday that it had teamed up with PokerStars, an online poker website, to push for federal legislation that would regulate online gambling and collect taxes on it.

"We are convinced that the lack of regulation of Internet gaming within the U.S. must change," said Steve Wynn, chairman and chief executive officer of the company. "We must recognize that this activity is occurring and that law enforcement does not have the tools to stop it.... It is time that the thousands of jobs created by this business and the potentially significant tax dollars come home to the U.S."

Should legislation pass, Wynn Resorts and PokerStars would aim to operate a poker website in the United States. But federal lawmakers could take a stand against websites, such as PokerStars, that can be accessed by U.S. residents even though federal legislation from 2006 technically made such online gambling illegal.

PokerStars continued to allow U.S. customers to use its gambling websites after the law passed. A lame-duck session attempt in December by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to legalize online poker failed; it would have penalized websites that violated the 2006 law by making it more difficult for them to be licensed.

States in recent months have made their own push to legalize online gambling for their residents. Florida and California are considering bills. New Jersey lawmakers passed legislation that would have made the state the first to allow online gambling, but Republican Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the measure this month.

stephen.ceasar@latimes.com

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