May 23, 2001 8:32 PM

Nevada's Senate Judiciary Committee has cleared a bill to create a legal and regulatory structure for the operation of online casinos.

The amended Assembly bill provides for lower licensing fees to open the competition up to smaller, rural casinos. Casinos would have to pay $250,000 for an online gaming license. Manufacturers would pay $125,000. Operators and manufacturers would also pay the state's standard 6.25 percent tax on gambling winnings.

The bill authorizes the Nevada Gaming Commission to develop regulations to govern online gaming that are consistent with existing laws, would restrict the games to jurisdictions where online gambling is legal, and would ensure minors are prevented from accessing the sites.

Any Senate changes to the bill would have to be approved by the Assembly, which passed the bill last month, before going to Gov. Kenny Guinn for his signature.

Experts predict it could be two to three years before any online casino sites are up and running.