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Laxalt says he’ll support ban of online wagering

Nevada’s attorney general said he plans to sign a letter supporting a bill backed by billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson that would ban Internet gaming nationwide and end the state’s online poker business.

The comments by Adam Laxalt on the “Ralston Live” public affairs television show Tuesday drew a sharp rebuke from Gov. Brian Sandoval, gaming regulators and casino industry leaders who were involved in creating the state’s interactive gaming legislation and regulations in 2013.

Laxalt said he disagreed with a 2011 opinion by the U.S. Department of Justice that offered a new interpretation of the Federal Wire Act, which had prohibited Internet gaming. He said the opinion “changed the landscape” without input from gaming companies or law enforcement.

“All parties needed to be involved to ensure that we can keep consumers safe,” said Laxalt, who was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

Laxalt said he plans to sign a letter being circulated by the attorneys general of Missouri and South Carolina that seeks outside support for House and Senate bills that would restore the Wire Act to its pre-2011 language.

Both bills would carry out Adelson’s goal to wipe Internet gaming from the landscape. The chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp. has put big money behind a campaign against online gambling and has argued that making wagers over the Internet is corrosive to society and bad for the casino industry.

Laxalt said he has not spoken to Adelson about the legislation.

Nevada has legalized only online poker, while Delaware and New Jersey have legalized other games, including slots and blackjack. The bills do not contain a grandfather clause that would allow those states to continue legally offering Internet gaming.

“I intend to sign the letter,” Laxalt said. “We need to return back to the status quo. Gaming is a different animal. We need to know the sources of money.”

Several state legislatures, including California and Pennsylvania, have debated legalizing various forms of Internet gaming this year.

Laxalt said the issue of Internet gaming legalization should be returned to Congress for continued debate.

Sandoval said he was disappointed by Laxalt’s decision, calling Nevada’s interactive gaming laws “groundbreaking” and necessary for the casino industry to grow and prosper.

“I am very concerned that anyone representing the state’s legal interests would speak out against current state law in our leading industry,” Sandoval said in a statement. “At its core, this is a state’s rights issue and I disagree with the Attorney General that a federal government one-size-fits-all solution is in the best interest of Nevada.”

Sandoval said Nevada, “to maintain a competitive edge internationally, must enact policies that allow the industry to meet the demands of a younger, more technologically engaged gamer.”

This is not the first time Sandoval and Laxalt, both Republicans, have clashed.

Just weeks after taking office in January, Laxalt joined with 25 other states to challenge President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration. Sandoval disagreed with the action, saying the matter would be best handled legislatively in Congress. In October, Laxalt joined a federal lawsuit challenging new land-use regulations to protect sage grouse. Sandoval said the state’s top attorney was acting in his own “personal capacity” and does not represent Nevada in the matter.

Nevada has two online poker websites. operated by Caesars Interactive Entertainment and the South Point. Nevada also has an interstate agreement with Delaware that allows online poker players from the two states to compete against each other.

Nevada Gaming Commission Chairman Tony Alamo Jr. called the Adelson-backed legislation “a step backwards” and would “stifle creativity and innovation.”

Alamo said Nevada’s interactive gaming laws have allowed casinos to take advantage of technology used for mobile gaming, wide-area-progressive slot machines and interactive gaming.

“All these things increase liquidity, thus the potential for building revenue for the state of Nevada,” Alamo said. “The 2011 DOJ opinion was a correct interpretation of the wire act that followed several circuit court opinions and supported our state’s innovative legislation.”

Alamo said the current bills in Congress “will take gaming back decades.”

MGM Resorts International General Counsel John McManus said Laxalt’s statement “is ignoring his own campaign promises.” He pointed to statement on Laxalt’s campaign website where the candidate says it was “far too often we’ve seen the federal government’s overreach tie the hands of Nevada’s job creators.”

McManus said the attorney general “is confused” about what is best for Nevada.

“This is a dangerous path, and the people of Nevada should not have to worry that their attorney general will lobby the federal government to destroy current and future jobs in our state,” McManus said.

— Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.

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