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NCLGS to discuss impact of UIGEA on state legislative independence

Is there a possibility that Internet gambling regulators could change the hostile stance of American state legislators? According to reports this week it appears that there will at the very least be an opportunity to discuss the issues. Members of the US National Council of Legislators from Gaming States (NCLGS) will be gathering for their annual discussion-fest this month in Las Vegas and among the subjects on the agenda is a study of the impact of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act.

The UIGEA passed into law in the USA last October and there will be those who say that discussing its implications for individual states, which jealously guard their right to legislate gambling, may be too little too late. However, anti-online gambling politicians have been quick to assure their state-level counterparts that their authority remains undiminished.

The NCLGS has some clout, because it is an important and regularly convened platform where U.S. state lawmakers interact and discuss gaming issues. Although it has traditionally and rather conservatively stood in opposition to Internet gambling, it is now open now to changing its position, according to a report in Interactive Gaming News this week.

Representatives from all the US states will hopefully contribute to the debate how the 2006 U.S. Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) and the subsequent efforts to modify it by the licensing and regulation of Internet gaming will impact individual states' abilities to regulate gaming on their own turf.

This will be facilitated by a panel discussion on June 9, titled "Internet Gaming Ban & Safe Harbors: Who Wins? Who Loses?" Panalists will include Dan Walsh, lead lobbyist, Interactive Gaming Council; David Robertson, former chair, National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling; Michael Bolcerek, president, Poker Players Alliance; and William Ford, senior counsel, corporate secretary, Magna Entertainment Corp, reports IGN.

NCLGS President and Florida Sen. Steven Geller explained that while NCLGS' position has always been that states should have the freedom to regulate as they see fit, Internet gambling has been an impediment to this. NCLGS feels, however the need to be educated on the matter, he said.

The purpose of the session is therefore to open a dialogue between state legislators and gaming regulators who are likely feeling tentative about how to navigate through the uncertain new political climate.

"States need to be able to determine what kind of gambling is legal in their states and Internet gambling basically takes away that ability," Geller said. "But we have agreed to reevaluate our position because that position was adopted by the organisation four or five years ago and obviously there have been huge technological changes. And allegedly there have been some changes that would allow some of the companies to prohibit Internet gambling in states that haven't specifically made it legal.

"That would be a different position for us since we're not objecting in principle; we're objecting on the grounds that the states need to be able to decide whether they want it in their state or not."

The discussions will also be an opportunity for NCLGS members to update themselves on relevant legislative moves, from the UIGEA which seeks to disrupt financial transactions with online gambling companies to the attempts by Rep. Barney Frank to introduce a regulation and licensing regime, and those of other politicians to initiatiate a detailed study of Internet gambling and appropriate blocking technologies.

Geller, who acknowledges he knows very little about Frank's bill, is reserving his opinion on it until after the meeting.

"We're going to have an update on Congressman Frank's bill," Geller said. "I'm not too familiar with his bill. I've read some of the articles, but I've been in the legislature for 17 years, so I know better than to follow what the newspapers say because they're usually wrong. We do have an employee in Washington that tracks all the federal legislation, so I'm expecting that he will be speaking to us at our state federal relations committee on Congressman Frank's bill."

Geller explained that NCLGS is not mandated to take state policy positions. "In general we're information only, by which I mean we want to let our members know what the current state of the law is coming down the pike," he said. "Again, we do have an established position on Internet gambling and I think it's the only type of gambling we've taken any position on. Depending on what we hear, we may reevaluate our position."



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