For years, Caesars Entertainment Corp. and other brick-and-mortar gaming companies have approached Internet gambling as a threat to their multibillion-dollar businesses, worried that customers would opt to stay home instead of visiting a casino.
They also pursued legislation that made Internet gambling illegal.
But with the rapid growth of Internet gaming in Europe and a recent U.S. Department of Justice memo acknowledging that only sports wagering is illegal under the federal Wire Act, companies are lobbying for federal regulation of the industry.
Caesars Entertainment Executive Vice President And Chief Financial Officer Jonathan Halkyard said Monday there is a growing consensus among law enforcement, consumer safety and child advocates and the casino industry about the need for reform of federal Internet gaming laws and strict regulation of online poker.
"The status quo was unacceptable before last December's (Justice Department) opinion," Halkyard said. "It's even more unacceptable today."
Halkyard told casino executives gaming regulators, lobbyists and others at the iGaming North America conference at Planet Hollywood Resort that the company's change in position on online poker has "mirrored that of the American Gaming Association." The conference, which runs through today , has drawn about 550 people from around the world to discuss issues including the economic impact of regulated online gaming, implementing effective social media strategies, and the impact of interactive gaming on tribal casinos.
The Washington D.C.-based trade association in March 2011 called on Congress to enact legislation that would allow states to license and regulate online poker and ensure players aren't being cheated.
He said that "certain regulatory safeguards must be put in place" before online poker can be legal. Halkyard said the games must be fair, offer secure payment, deal with problem gambling and be restricted to adult players.
He said Caesars Entertainment had always advocated for a federal solution.
That position puts the company at odds with state regulators, online poker advocates and other industry groups who see opportunities on a state-by-state basis. California, New Jersey, Iowa and Illinois are among the states now considering legal online gaming.
Halkyard described any state-by-state push to legalize online gaming as a "patchwork set of regulations that is confusing to customers and law enforcement."
He said the Las Vegas-based company supports a federal effort to define online gaming and to provide a regulatory framework for online poker. Caesars Entertainment has applied for a Nevada online gaming license, which is expected to be approved by June, he noted.
The Nevada Gaming Commission in December adopted rules that would let companies apply for licenses to operate in-state poker websites. Caesars Entertainment, Boyd Gaming Corp., Cantor Gaming, Bally Technologies and International Game Technology are among the companies that have applied for licenses.
"Our shareholders' interests wouldn't be served if we didn't look to participate," he said.
Halkyard said a regulated online poker industry would "increase overall industry revenue and profits, not cannibalize them."
Contact reporter Chris Sieroty at email@example.com or 702-477-3893.