Nevada Senator Says “Now Or Never” For Federal Online Poker Legislation

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After lying in a state of suspension for much of this year, there has been a flurry of activity in the halls of Congress regarding federal regulation of online poker, upping the optimism for many Americans regarding the reopening of internet poker for millions.

Recently, Nevada Senator and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Arizona Senator Jon Kyl announced that they had come to an agreement regarding their proposed bill to regulate online poker. According to several outlets, Reid and Kyl are now floating this proposed bill to their fellow Senators in an attempt to put together enough votes to pass the measure. Sen. Reid stated yesterday that the bill is “now waiting again” to garner enough support from Republican senators to ensure its passage.

There have been no details released about the bill, but there are some persuasive measures that have leaked that might draw in those undecided Senators. In legalizing and regulating online poker on a federal level, the bill allegedly will strengthen laws that prohibit other forms of gambling, such as sports betting and casino games, on the internet as well as state lotteries. A proposal in the House of Representatives led by Texas Representative Joe Barton also would do much the same thing, allowing for online poker but outlawing other gaming and the ability of Americans to play on unlicensed (re: non-American based) sites from around the world.

One of the Senators who may be heavily involved in the passage of the Senate measure is the junior Senator from Nevada, Republican Dean Heller. The Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Steve Tetrault quotes Sen. Heller as saying that he has discussed the issue with other GOP Senators, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, John Cornyn and Roy Blunt, to try to sell them on the proposed Reid/Kyl bill. “(We want to) make sure…all of them have an idea of what we are trying to push in this effort.”

On another front, one of the staunch opponents of online poker legislation, the Indian casinos, will be having a meeting in Washington next week to further discuss the online poker issue. On Thursday, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee will hold hearings beginning at 2:15PM (Eastern Time) to “examine the regulation of tribal gaming, focusing on brick and mortar to the internet.” There have been no witnesses announced for this hearing as of yet but it is expected to be a lively discussion with the Indian casino interests’ previous opposition to any federally mandated online gaming regulation.

The recent activity has raised the hopes of many in the poker world that there could be some action on the issue before the end of 2012. With Congress heading on a summer break in August – and the upcoming election that will see all the members of the House of Representatives and a third of the Senate facing reelection battles – it is expected that there won’t be much movement on the issue prior to the November elections.

With that in mind, the proposed Reid/Kyl legislation is looking at the post-election “lame duck” session of Congress to push the bill and potentially find a piece of legislation that is guaranteed to pass to attach the bill to as a “rider.” The reasons for that are twofold: on one hand, any legislators facing their constituents and reelection to Congress won’t have to explain their vote on such an issue as internet gaming and, two, the federal government would like to stanch the ongoing tide of states that are looking to get the jump on the federal government by passing their own legislation regarding the issue. Sen. Heller remarked on this issue to the LVRJ’s Tetrault, saying, “(It is) critical that something happens this year. Time is running out…if we get beyond this year, I think that states will have gone too far in their efforts to basically legalize everything.”

It may already be too late to prevent the states from enacting their own legislation on the internet gaming issue. Delaware recently passed laws to open all forms of internet gaming in the state, while New Jersey passed legislation to open up sports betting in its Atlantic City casinos, pending a challenge to federal laws. In addition to that, New Jersey is currently reviewing online poker initiatives and the state of California continues to banter about online poker regulation for its state’s citizens. Nevada has already moved forward on the online poker issue, handing out licenses to some gaming operators, and is expected to have an intrastate gaming network up and running in early 2013.

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