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Las Vegas assemblyman introduces bill to legalize Internet poker

State lawmakers will consider a bill that could lead to Nevada legalizing Internet poker.

Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, introduced AB258 Thursday, which is backed by Internet gaming giant PokerStars.

If passed, the bill would require the Nevada Gaming Commission adopt regulations allowing for Internet poker.

Horne, who is chairman of Assembly Judiciary Committee, set a March 24 hearing date for the bill.

Current Nevada law allows casinos to operate games through hand-held or wireless gaming devices using electronic money transfers.

In the bill’s opening statement, Horne said legal Internet poker could benefit Nevada’s economy and could be limited with technology to the state and other places where it is legal.

The bill pertains only to poker and is centered on Nevada. However, if other states were to legalize Internet poker, gamblers in those jurisdictions could participate in the wagering activity.

“Nevada has always been the leader in gaming,” Horne said. “As such, we should remain the leader when it comes to Internet poker. This provides the state with another source of revenue.”

PokerStars is considered one of the Internet gaming industry’s largest companies. The business is licensed in the Isle of Man.

Before the start of the current Legislative session, the company hired former Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins as a lobbyist.

Perkins said he will seek the Nevada gaming industry’s support for the bill.

“I’ve had some very short conversations with some folks at the (Nevada) Resort Association,” Perkins said. “They have members on both sides of the issue.”

Perkins believes legalizing Internet gaming could help Nevada become a technology hub.

Horne said job creation and providing the state with a new revenue source were his primary reasons behind the legislation. The assemblyman said he met with PokerStars representatives, who committed to creating a technology center in the state if the bill passes.

“Just to get the ball rolling, they could hire 500 high tech personnel,” Horne said.

PokerStars would also consider buying a traditional casino in Nevada, if the bill passes, Horne and Perkins said.

Horne acknowledged the growth and popularity of Internet poker.

He emphasized that Nevada has the expertise to take leadership in drafting regulations. According to the bill draft, regulations must guard against underage gambling and cheating and set standards that protect players’ privacy.

Gaming Control Board Chairman Mark Lipparelli was withholding judgment until he had a chance to review it more closely. He said, however, he would most likely object to a section that could limit the discretion regulators would have toward approving or denying an Internet gaming company applicant.

MGM Resorts International spokesman Alan Feldman said his company opposes the bill.

“We support federal legislation on this issue,” Feldman said. “Nevada’s previous efforts to implement online gaming at a state level were halted in 2002, when the Department of Justice advised Nevada that federal law prohibits gambling over the Internet.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a bill last week that would have made his state the first in the nation to legalize Internet gambling. He thought the legislation could expand unregulated casino gambling throughout New Jersey.

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871.

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