Regulator confident Web gaming can be policed

WASHINGTON — A top Nevada gaming regulator assured lawmakers Friday that Internet gambling can be policed with software that ferrets out cheaters and systems that identify underage and addicted players.

The comments from Gaming Control Board Chairman Mark Lipparelli were aimed at fears that online wagering could spin out of control if legalized by Congress.

He said his answer would be "an unconditional yes" if asked whether the gaming industry and states could deal with underage gamblers, betting addicts, money laundering and computer "poker bots" that enable players to cheat.

"You can probably get away with trying to cheat a system, but you will be uncovered fairly quickly," Lipparelli said. "The analytical tools that are being employed are very robust. You might be able to get away with it once, but you will leave big fingerprints behind."

Lipparelli’s testimony came before a House commerce subcommittee studying online gambling in response to a bill to legalize web poker and another that would open the door to a broader array of games.

Also testifying were Frank Fahrenkopf, president and chief executive of the American Gaming Association; addiction researcher Rachel Volberg of the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago; and Charles McIntyre, director of the New Hampshire lottery.

McIntyre came with a specific message: If Congress legalizes online poker, states have infrastructure in place through their lotteries to claim a piece of the action.

A path for the bills remains unclear. Industry officials say a poker-only bill is more likely to advance, but subcommittee chairman Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif., made clear after the hearing that nothing will move fast, if at all.

Democrats Friday urged Bono Mack to hold another hearing to probe officials from the departments of Justice, Treasury and Commerce and the Federal Trade Commission, which would likely have a role in overseeing online gaming.

"For anything to continue to move, it would take more hearings, but at this point I have not said yes or no," said Bono Mack, who told the audience at Friday’s hearing she was taking a "careful approach." She said it would probably be early next year before she sets the next steps, if any.

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, chief sponsor of the poker bill, said "the votes are there" to pass his bill, but "if they want to have another hearing I am open to that."

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., is negotiating a separate online poker bill. Major casinos have held off backing any bill until his version emerges.

Earlier this fall, Barton and others pushed for the deficit reduction supercommittee to embrace the legalization of Internet poker before it reaches a deadline of next Wednesday. But the supercommittee remains deadlocked over issues much larger than card games and appeared unlikely Friday to come up with a solution to the debt crisis.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.

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