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Interest groups clash over online poker

WASHINGTON – State lottery directors are urging Congress to block online gambling legislation that they say would unnecessarily steer money to Nevada.

Meanwhile Catholic activists and conservatives offered their support for the bill that would legalize online poker while banning other forms of Internet gambling.

Interest groups have heightened their lobbying efforts as the 112th Congress closes in on adjournment at the end of the year. Proponents hope – and opponents worry – that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., will attach the bill to must-pass legislation during the lame-duck session.

No bill has been officially introduced, but Reid and Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., have drafted a version that surfaced publicly.

Seven lottery chiefs making the rounds on Capitol Hill this week are pointing to provisions in the draft bill that would effectively guarantee the Nevada Gaming Control Board licensing duties bringing the state about a quarter of all the “poker activity fees” set aside for state and federal governments.

“Only one state is currently set up to license poker operators and that state is Nevada,” said Mark Hichar, a lawyer speaking for the North American State and Provincial Lotteries.

The lottery chiefs are using that as a key argument in their discussions with lawmakers from their own states. They also argue that state lotteries are capable of regulating and managing online gaming without the need for federal intervention.

“Lotteries have a very high degree of social responsibility,” Kentucky Lottery President Arch Gleason said.

The lottery chiefs from Idaho, New Hampshire, Georgia, Washington, Iowa, Missouri and Kentucky have scheduled meetings with lawmakers from their states. None are meeting with Reid, Kyl or their staffs.

Kristen Orthman, a spokeswoman for Reid, downplayed the criticism of the online poker legislation.

“There is a lot of misunderstanding about the leaked bill, which is just a draft. Our door remains open to discussing the bill with anyone who would like to discuss,” Orthman said.

Meanwhile, Catholic Advocates joined with 60 Plus Association and American Majority Action to support the Reid-Kyl bill as a way to limit online gaming.

The organizations, which tend to be socially conservative, wrote letters to congressional leaders this week urging federal action to limit an impending “online gambling explosion” in 2013.

Several states have approved online gambling statutes since a Department of Justice ruling a year ago gave them the green light.

The department decided last year that the 1961 Wire Act, which bans wagering over telecommunications lines, applies only to sports betting.

“Federal restriction of online gambling is vital, urgent, and consistent with recent congressional intent. They legislation proposed by Senator Kyl and Senator Reid is a sensible solution,” they wrote.

The group has also set up a website – hrestrictonlinegambling.org – to generate grass-roots support for the bill. The American Gaming Association is also lobbying for passage of the Reid-Kyl bill.

“Congress must establish federal minimum standards that address consumer protection, prevent underage gambling, promote responsible gaming and provide help for those with gambling problems,” association President and CEO Frank Fahrenkopf Jr. said.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau reporter
Peter Urban at purban@stephensmedia.com
or 202-783-1760.

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