Tuesday, October 2, 2012 : FEDERAL ATTEMPT TO LEGALISE ONLINE POKER COULD MEET OPPOSITION FROM STATE POLITICIANS
Sen. Harry Reid could have more on his plate than he bargained for if he launched a legalization attempt in the "lame duck" session of Congress.
The influential Washington DC political publication The Hill reports that a push for the federal legalization of online poker by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the US Congress’s lame-duck session this year "could run into a buzz-saw of opposition from state legislatures and governors."
Apparently concern is growing at state level that federal government legalization could adversely impact the initiatives to legalise online gambling in various forms in a number of states, or could interfere with individual state lottery plans to introduce online activity.
James Ward, a committee director at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), told The Hill that his members were frustrated by Reid’s proposal.
“It’s frustrating because they are overseeing a successful stewardship of the gaming industry,” Ward said. “It’s not clear why any federal intervention is necessary. … It’s a sensitive topic for the states any time you talk about preemption.”
The Hill reminds its readers that the states aggressively defended their turf last year as the Democratic leader and the failed “supercommittee” considered online gaming legalization, and could go on the offensive again.
Delaware and Nevada have authorised some form of online gaming, and legislatures in at least seven other states have introduced bills to legalize in some shape as well, according to the NCSL.
Asked by The Hill for comment, a Reid spokeswoman said the Nevada senator is aware of the states’ concerns and is open to more input from legislatures and governors.
“We have consulted extensively with a variety of stakeholders about the bill – including many states. We have indicated to all that our door is open to continuing conversations,” she said.
Reid supporters claim that the states’ concerns are addressed by a provision in the Reid-Kyl bill that gives individual states the chance to opt in to the proposed federal regulatory regime for online poker.
Margaret DeFrancisco, co-chairwoman of the government relations committee at the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries (NASPL), told The Hill that state lotteries raised more than $20 billion in 2011 for a variety of causes, including education, parks and senior citizens.
“It’s all money that the states absolutely rely on,” said DeFrancisco, also president and CEO of the Georgia Lottery Corporation, adding that the Internet would be another avenue for states to sell lottery tickets.
“It’s another sales channel. We don’t want to be restricted by the federal government telling us what gaming policy should be in the states,” DeFrancisco said, adding:
“The summary [of the Reid-Kyl bill] that we have seen is not terribly friendly to lotteries. … It’s very restrictive. We don’t want and we don’t need any federal legalization concerning lotteries. Period.”
Reid's bill, co-authored with arch anti-online gambling politician Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, bans all forms of online gambling except for Internet poker but allows state and tribal lotteries to sell tickets online. It prohibits Internet games that imitate slot machines or other casino games .
The Hill recalls that in 2011 several state governors wrote to members of Congress – including the failed “supercommittee” – stressing that states should be able to regulate their own gaming. They also expressed worries about federal legalization interfering with lotteries.
This year, the National Governors Association wrote to congressional leaders to say that gambling regulation “has historically been addressed by the states” and that federal legalization would need state input.
The NCSL and the NASPL also passed resolutions this summer calling on Congress to respect state sovereignty when it comes to overseeing gambling.
There are also claims from Reid critics that his attempt to ban all forms of online gambling except for poker appear designed to save his [Nevada] home state’s gaming interests.
Former politician and now lobbyist Jon Porter refutes the idea, saying that land casinos realise that they need to get into the online gambling world.
“Our industry doesn’t want to end up like the newspapers or the music industry,” Porter told The Hill.
“The Web is what is happening right now. … We understand it’s coming. We think to do it right, it should be done federally."
“I think, absolutely, there is momentum, and I’m hoping there is a push, but it’s very unpredictable,” Porter said. “We are closer today than we have ever been."