Internet poker taking steps toward first hand

Feb 12, 2013 3:08 AM

It’s looking like a leisurely downhill stroll to those first Internet poker hands in Nevada and New Jersey later this year.

Not that everything has been locked in. In this world of continually moving parts, driven by politics and myriad other interests, nothing should be considered done until it is done.

But New Jersey Gov. Christie’s conditional veto message of a bill that’s been on his desk for weeks – he will sign it IF lawmakers cooperate with a bit of minor-league tweaking – had Internet poker proponents cheering.

That’s no problem, no problem at all, gushed New Jersey State Sen. Ray Lesniak who sponsored the poker bill. Yes indeed, half a cake definitely beats the alternative.

And then we saw the first signs of what could become a far-reaching domino effect. Gov. Brian Sandoval quickly prodded Nevada lawmakers, telling them he wants a hurry-up job on legislation enabling him to approve interstate poker pacts with jurisdictions where Internet poker is also legal. Forget about what Congress may do, which is probably nothing.

It’s easy to see these two pro-gaming Republican governors quickly drafting a two-state compact. Delaware could presumably come along too, not that its roughly 900,000 residents add significantly to a three-state compact that would come to about 12 million.

Hmmmm, I wonder if this thinking about compacts could eventually put states and some foreign jurisdictions under the same big let’s-play- poker-together roof.

So what comes next?

California, possibly…maybe, which explains all the appraising looks being cast in its direction by followers of the state’s gaming and political scene. A state with some 38 million residents would provide a poker pool worth waiting for.

California interests have been debating the pros and cons of Internet poker for a number of years. Pessimists like to remind optimists that the various groups with something to gain (or lose) from the legalization of poker continue to pull in different directions.

Optimists point out that many of the grounds for opposing legislation have been put to rest. There’s less disagreement. So they claim.

Nevertheless, California politics bear a disappointing resemblance to what we see in Washington: it is difficult to get anything done.

Gaming industry leaders have hoped Congress will create 50-state legislation thereby avoiding a hodge-podge of possibly conflicting state rules. But that’s not going to happen any time soon despite Harry Reid’s continuing efforts to put a little positive spin on such possibilities.

Which brings us back to the expected domino effect created by Gov. Christie’s willingness to sign a modified bill Lesniak says will soon arrive on the governor’s desk.

Atlantic City’s struggling casino industry will get a boost from the Rational Group’s promised efforts to purchase the Atlantic Club Casino, which has been headed toward an eventual closure for a number of months. The Rational Group owns the PokerStars and Full Tilt poker websites that (not so long ago) were in violation of federal laws.

It’s difficult to believe New Jersey regulatory authorities will stand in the way of this purchase. Internet poker appears to offer the kind of performance enhancing infusion Boardwalk casinos need.

And that has me wondering if MGM Resorts will use the licensing of the Rational Group to argue perhaps the time has come to review the order that forced MGM to dump its half interest in the Borgata, now being run by co-owner Boyd Gaming.

Few people expect MGM to do any serious new spending in New Jersey but company officials would probably like to remove the black eye the company sustained when state officials forced MGM to choose between Macau and a New Jersey license.

Whatever happens as this issue plays itself out, we can expect other states to take careful looks at the tax base offered by Internet poker.

The dominos will keep falling.

Phil Hevener has been writing about the Nevada gaming business for more than 30 years. He can be reached at [email protected].

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