Online poker in Nevada may only be months away

Gamblers could be playing Internet poker in Nevada even before the Legislature has a chance to act on several Gaming Policy Committee recommendations to tweak current state regulations covering interactive gambling.

Gov. Brian Sandoval, following the committee’s final meeting Wednesday before the Legislature convenes in February, said he’s comfortable state gaming regulators are taking appropriate steps to license reputable casino operators and technology providers while protecting players’ interests.

Nevada gaming regulators licensed slot machine makers Bally Technologies and International Game Technology in June to provide interactive gaming products to casino operators. Shuffle Master has received tentative approval as a supplier and could receive final approval soon.

Gaming Control Board Chairman Mark Lipparelli said the first casino operators could be in front of regulators in 60 to 90 days. Once the casino operators are licensed and independent testing labs sign off on the technology, pay-to-play Internet poker could go live within Nevada boundaries before the session begins.

"I have confidence in our regulatory system," said Sandoval, a former one-term chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission. "I have confidence all issues have been considered and exhaustively covered. The technology is always evolving, but I have a level of comfort the public is protected."

Sandoval reconstituted the 11-person policy panel, which had been dormant since the 1980s, to explore Nevada’s push into Internet gaming. The control board and commission have already approved regulations allowing for wagering on Internet poker as long as the activity takes place within Nevada’s borders. More than three dozen casino operators and gaming equipment providers have applied for Interactive licenses.

Sandoval said the committee – which includes the heads of Nevada’s two gaming regulatory panels, gaming industry representatives, lawmakers and the business community – can explore Internet gaming policy when the Legislature, which meets for 120 days every two years, is not in session. He said he hopes to add another member representing the academic community.

The policy committee met four times and developed seven recommendations for lawmakers, five of which committee members voted unanimously to forward to Carson City.

The recommendations are not specific, but ask lawmakers to modify statutory barriers affecting online gaming regulation and to strengthen regulatory standards placed on gaming license holders in order to keep underage players and those in other states from accessing websites.

The policy committee also wants the Legislature to strengthen safeguards for player money held by online gambling sites. One proposal would allow Nevada to use executive compacts or other arrangements to partner with neighboring states and countries in online gaming without reducing regulatory control over Nevada licensees.

"We made some significant progress," Sandoval said.

Any change in how revenues from Internet gaming are taxed would also have to be taken up legislatively. Lipparelli said potential revenues from Nevada’s online poker websites will be taxed at 6.75 percent. However, certain revenues from poker tournaments can go untaxed, an area that might be reviewed.

Gaming regulators acknowledge they are battling quickly changing technology in the casino industry.

Lipparelli pointed out that Nevada casinos are operating roughly 22,000 fewer slot machines and 500 fewer table games since 2003, but producing the same amount of gaming revenue for the state, roughly $10.6 billion annually.

He said multiple-denomination slot machines and multigame format machines, as well as ticket in-ticket out cashless wagering, allow the industry to accomplish the same tasks with less equipment. "Small changes in technology can bring big changes," Lipparelli said. "Gaming technology has changed tremendously in a short time."

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