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Lawmakers in favour of a bill to legalise online poker in Iowa may have to do some intensive public education on the technology and intent, judging by a poll published this week by the regional Des Moines Register newspaper.
The poll, carried out by local company Selzer & Co. Inc., polled 800 Iowans on the question 'Should the state legalise internet gambling for adults?' just before the introduction of Sen. Jeff Danielson's bill proposing the legalisation of intrastate online poker in the state.
Surprisingly, 73 percent of respondents opposed the idea, and only 23 percent were in favor. Four percent were undecided.
Respondents expressed concerns regards addiction and whether minors could be effectively blocked from internet gambling, suggesting that knowledge of the available technology and resources to held problem gamblers is perhaps thinly spread. Danielson commented that he remains confident that once Iowans know the specifics of the poker proposal, more will support it.
"It's very narrow and good public policy," he told the newspaper, adding that the younger demographic was more receptive to the idea and realised that online poker was a sporting game of skill as well as chance.
However, the Des Moines Register poll showed a substantial majority of Iowans aged 18 to 34 are against online gambling: 61 percent oppose the idea vs. 36 percent in favour.
The opinion divide grows as respondents get older, the poll showed. Seventy-six percent of those aged 35 to 54 opposed legalising Internet gambling, as do 80 percent of those 65 and older.
The poll of 800 Iowa adults was conducted mid-February and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. Interviewers contacted households with randomly selected landline and cell phone numbers. Responses were weighted by age to reflect the general population based on recent census data.
The bill calls for gamblers to register for an account in person at a state-regulated casino, by mail, by telephone or by electronic means. And today's technology enables strict safeguards, Kirk Uhler of US Digital Gaming told the newspaper. Gamblers would have to provide a Social Security number and driver's licence number to prove they are of legal age. A direct interlink would validate whether the numbers provided belong to that person, he said.
The same safeguards used in online banking and stock trading are used in the online poker environment, Uhler said. US Digital hopes to be involved in any legalised poker action, and has been following the Iowan debate closely.
Danielson's bill recently passed its first hurdle, moving through the State Government Committee in the Senate. A subcommittee of five senators on the Ways and Means Committee will discuss the bill this week in the Senate Lobbyist Lounge. If the bill becomes a Ways and Means bill with approval from that committee, it would not be subject to the next bill-killing deadline of April 1, and could eventually come to the state House and Senate for debate and a vote.
If it gets that far, the signature of Iowa governor Terry Branstad would be all that was needed to pass the bill into state law. However, as the industry discovered in New Jersey recently, even a bill passed overwhelmingly by both Assembly and Senate can be vetoed and derailed by a determined governor.
Asked recently about his feelings on legalised poker, Gov. Branstad - a Republican - said that the bill might be good for the state if it would provide safeguards against cheating for Iowans who already gamble online illegally.
But he added: "I'm certainly not advocating it. ... I guess my feeling is we need to be very careful about expanding gambling."
Pressed on whether he would veto the bill, Branstad said he wants to carefully study the final version before taking a position.
Land casinos with operations in Iowa have made substantial financial contributions, but they are not the driving force behind the bill, the Register reports. So far, most casino lobbyists remain undecided about whether to support the legislation.
For details on the poll: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20110322/NEWS10/103220348/-1/ENT06/Online-gambling-Iowans-say-no-poll-finds
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