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Committee gives governor stronger hand in shaping Net gaming policy

We’re No. 1 and want to stay there.

That was the essence Wednesday of the first meeting of the Gaming Policy Committee since 1984.

Nevada wants to be first with a thorough regulatory package for online gaming in hopes that all other gaming jurisdictions, national and international, will be followers. To achieve that, the 2013 Legislature will need to be prepared to write, adapt and clarify laws governing online gaming.

Apparently, lawmakers need some help.

Calling these “monumental issues,” Gov. Brian Sandoval reactivated the Gaming Policy Committee to make suggestions to the Legislature so Nevada remains the gold standard of regulation, an overused but generally accepted as truthful description.

Nevada doesn’t want any other jurisdiction, particularly New Jersey, to beat Nevada to the regulatory punch. As many as 42 other states are looking for ways to regulate online gambling.

Sandoval, the committee’s chairman, said because of the technology, Nevada’s 81-year-old gaming industry is “entering a new phase of gaming history with unique challenges.”

But there are decisions to be made balancing what’s best for existing brick-and-mortar casinos and online operations.

Online poker doesn’t take away much from existing casinos, but what about online slots, online blackjack or online roulette? Nevada companies with billions invested in luxury properties don’t want to see their casinos cannibalized by online gambling, though many want a piece of the online pie.

One of the 11 members of the policy committee, MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren, said online gaming “is the future of our state, it’s the future of our industry.”

Despite that buildup, the first meeting in the Clark County Commission Chambers was only 90 minutes long and drew a smaller-than-expected crowd of maybe 100, mostly gaming lawyers.

One committee member, Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairman William Horne, who will handle these bills, was an unexplained no-show.

In 2011, Horne introduced a bill to legalize online gaming in Nevada despite federal laws making it illegal. He did so after a two-day junket to London hosted by PokerStars.

State-by-state regulation is viewed as unworkable, so his bill was amended to go into effect after federal approval is achieved.

The committee will meet five times to address what legal changes may be needed, how Nevada keeps its leadership role and what economic impact this new technology will have. The last meeting in August will conclude with the committee’s legislative proposals.

A lot of the heavy lifting has been under way since 2001 by state gaming regulators who have been working with federal officials, researching other jurisdictions’ online gambling rules and establishing basic regulations.

If Nevada is gold, who holds the silver standard?

Gaming Control Board Chairman Mark Lipparelli said the jurisdictions that have made the most progress besides Nevada are New Jersey and the Isle of Alderney, a British island eight miles off the coast of France, which he said has taken a thoughtful approach to online gaming.

He was partly referring to the Alderney Gambling Control Commission’s swift action suspending Full Tilt Poker’s gaming license after Full Tilt, PokerStars and Absolute Poker, the three largest online poker operations, were shut down by the FBI in April after federal indictments.

In January, I suggested the Gaming Policy Committee be eliminated because of its inactivity. Because the first meeting was fairly basic, the verdict remains out on whether the committee should live on.

Could online gaming regulation be achieved through the efforts of the Gaming Control Board and the Gaming Commission? Probably.

However, this committee is the only way the governor, a former chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission, can be directly involved because after he appoints regulators, he is supposed to be hands-off.

This gives him a stronger voice and higher visibility. It drew such a swarm of reporters, you would have thought it was an election night.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call
702-383-0275. She also blogs at
lvrj.com/blogs/morrison.

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