Legislation looming?

Jan 14, 2003 6:45 AM

While no one can predict what legislators will do in Washington, it’s a sure bet they will "tamper" with what isn’t broken if they have too much time on their hands.

And the new Congress, according to some experts, may have enough time on its hands to confront issues critical to the gaming industry.

"There’s no appetite around the country to expand casino-style gaming," said Frank Fahrenkopf, Jr., president and CEO of the American Gaming Association.

Fahrenkopf added, however, that it’s likely that several states will either expand or adopt different forms of gambling.

Notably, Tennessee has just approved a lottery and will launch one this year, and several states are about to add slot machines to race tracks in hopes of generating taxes to make up for budget deficits.

Nevertheless, there will be "inhibitors" to gaming, Fahrenkopf said.

"We can expect legislation against pathological gambling pushed by the trial lawyers, who want a new cause to replace the tobacco industry," he said.

Fahrenkopf noted that another "inhibitor" has already made its presence felt in Illinois, where the legislature passed a tax that takes an amazing 50 percent of gaming profits.

"As a result, Illinois is not going to get companies to re-invest, but instead they may end up losing their industry," he said.

Those who represent gaming interests in Washington believe a ban on Internet gambling, such as the one proposed by Rep. Jim Leach, has the best chance of passing this year.

There have already been approved prohibitions against using credit cards for wagering on the Internet.

And, while tribal casinos have spread around the country like wildfire, there is a concern that the expansion needs to be controlled.

"There’s a growing concern over the spread of tribal gaming," said James Ryan, chief counsel for Senator Harry Reid. "There are members on the Indian Affairs Committee who feel the spirit of the original tribal gaming laws are being undermined."

Ryan said that feeling could lead to legislation regarding issues such as, what constitutes an Indian tribe, how many members does it need for federal status, and whether tribes can "annex" non tribal lands for the purpose of building a casino.

In addition, a potential ban on college sports betting in Nevada is always looming, as long as legislators need something "to feel good about."

"One by-product of having too much time on their hands is the potential for driving through "feel good" legislation, such as the ban on college sports betting," said Scott Bensing, chief of staff for Senator John Ensign.

Bensing added that it’s possible Sen. John McCain will renew his drive to outlaw college sports betting in Nevada, even though such legislation would have no impact on the real issues of "gambling in dorm rooms" and fixing sporting events.