Passage of federal Internet poker legislation during Congress' upcoming lame duck session will "take a little bit of gamblers luck," the casino industry's chief Washington, D.C., lobbyist said Tuesday in Las Vegas.
American Gaming Association President Frank Fahrenkopf Jr. said legalizing Internet poker in the U.S. continues to be an overriding issue for the casino industry, which officially kicked off the Global Gaming Expo at the Sands Expo and Convention Center. The four-day conference and trade show is the industry's largest annual meeting.
Fahrenkopf, whose organization co-produces G2E with Reed Exhibitions, said Internet poker legalization is the most talked about subject among the gaming community. Most of the major casino companies and gaming equipment manufacturers have taken initial steps to jump into a legalized American Internet poker market.
G2E held a special one-day conference Monday devoted to Internet gaming.
A bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. John Kyl, R-Ariz., has been bottled up in Congress since it was first proposed during the 2010 lame duck session.
A summary of the proposed legislation, which would set up a structure for regulating and taxing Internet poker on federal level, floated through the Washington, D.C., and poker media last month.
Fahrenkopf, during an opening session with press covering G2E, said introduction of a bill during the traditional session of Congress between the November elections and the end-of-the year adjournment did not automatically ensure passage.
"The legislation may be much different than the summary we saw recently," Fahrenkopf said.
Congress has several pressing issues that it may take up after the election. He said it might be difficult for Internet poker to be discussed. In addition, he said Internet gaming proponents are losing several key members of Congress who are retiring.
"We don't know what the landscape will be like come January," Fahrenkopf said. "It could be much more difficult if we don't get something done during the lame duck session of Congress."
Fahrenkopf said the U.S. casino industry is missing out on revenues being devoted by gamblers to Internet gaming worldwide. Forms of Internet gaming are legal in 85 countries, and a recent study by a H2 Gambling Capital found that 33 million players worldwide would wager almost $35 billion this year on the Internet.
"This is with very minor participation from the U.S.," said Fahrenkopf, who said there are still some 2,000 off-shore websites accepting wagers from Americans from all forms of Internet gambling, including bets on sports and other games.
Betting is still taking place despite the crackdown in 2011 by federal prosecutors on unlawful Internet gambling websites.
Fahrenkopf said U.S. poker legislation would be a crime prevention measure and would strengthen the Federal Wire Act, which was reinterpreted last December as pertaining only to sports wagering.
The challenge, Fahrenkopf said, will be getting Congress to address this issue following the elections.
The Wire Act's reinterpretation also spurred several states to explore legalizing Internet poker and other forms of Internet gaming. Nevada, which has legalized Internet poker within state borders, has taken the correct approach, Fahrenkopf said, in its regulations.
"Nevada is the model for other states," Fahrenkopf said.
G2E, which is not open to the public, is the traditional location for the gaming industry to unveil new innovations and gaming equipment. Slot machine companies are showing off new games featuring dozens of pop culture icons, including the rock band KISS, drivers from NASCAR, entertainers and reality TV stars.
Fahrenkopf said the 2012 G2E is the largest show since 2008, with more than 430 exhibitors over a 262,000 square-foot trade show floor.
The growth mirrors a recovery in the casino industry. Through August, 17 of the nation's 21 commercial casino markets have reported gaming revenues figures above 2011 totals for the same time frame. The commercial casino industry is up almost 6 percent from a year ago.
New Jersey, Missouri, Delaware and Indiana are the only casino markets in decline. Through July, Nevada gaming revenues are up 2.4 percent.
"It's a slow but steady recovery," Fahrenkopf said. "We are not out the woods yet, but we have turned the corner and are on our way."
Contact reporter Howard Stutz at email@example.com or 702-477-3871. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.