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Maryland governor wants Web poker off the agenda

Maryland’s governor is asking Congress to take the proposed legalization of Internet poker off the discussion table because he fears online gambling could destroy his state’s lottery.

In a letter to Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, co-chairs of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction — the congressional “supercommittee” that is looking at ways to find about $1.5 trillion in federal debt savings — Gov. Martin O’Malley said he opposes federal legalization of Internet poker.

“Such proposals would diminish significant sources of revenue for the states when we have already had to endure significant revenue reductions,” O’Malley wrote.

Many gaming and political insiders think the committee of 12 senators and representatives may look at legalizing Internet poker to create a new federal tax revenue stream that would help reduce the budget deficit.

Two bills calling for the legalization of Internet poker are now in Congress. On Tuesday, the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade will conduct a hearing into a bill to legalize Internet poker proposed by Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas.

O’Malley said federalizing Internet poker would widen state budget deficits and threaten any economic recovery.

“Historically, states have had the right to make their own decisions about whether to offer gambling and how to regulate the industry,” O’Malley said. “These proposals would strip states of those rights.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other elected leaders, along with Caesars Entertainment Corp., MGM Resorts International and other casino industry leaders, support federal legalization of Internet poker.

The American Gaming Association, the industry’s Washington D.C.-based lobbying group, has called on Congress to legalize Internet poker. American Gaming Association President Frank Fahrenkopf Jr. said the organization has taken a neutral stance, however, on the current Internet gaming bills.

O’Malley said Maryland’s lottery is the state’s fourth-largest revenue producer, generating $519 million annually. He said the federal legalization of Internet gaming could jeopardize lottery retailers.

Maryland legalized six slot machine-only casinos in 2008. The state’s lottery has been active since 1972.

“(Internet poker) would also jeopardize the dollars for K-12 public education, community colleges, and four-year colleges and universities that are generated by new slots locations in our state,” O’Malley said.

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

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