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A new course for Web poker

It’s lamentable that Congress failed to act on Internet poker legislation before wrapping up its work for 2012. The global nature of online poker cries out for a federal solution, and a bill prepared by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and (now former) Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., would have been a good start toward resolving the regulatory mess created by the Office of Legal Counsel, which decided in 2011 – at variance with long-held interpretation – that the Wire Act prohibited only interstate gambling on sporting events.

Nevadans have long known the importance of strict, transparent and enforceable gambling regulations. Our system of regulation has made Nevada a sought-after model worldwide for properly ensuring fair betting, and it has led to a thriving gambling industry that for decades has led the nation.

But now, absent legislation that exempts poker from the federal Internet gambling ban, individual states are seeking to pass regulations that would allow online poker within their respective borders. It’s consistent with federal law, but it has the potential to create a confusing patchwork of rules and regulations that may frustrate both companies offering online poker as well as gamblers.

This is far from ideal. Sen. Reid and Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., should make the passage of online poker legislation a top priority for 2013, no matter the difficulty in dealing with lawmakers who would prefer to ban all online gambling and be done with it. The proliferation of offshore poker websites demonstrates that a head-in-the-sand approach is both ineffective and short-sighted.

However, in the meantime, it’s not in Nevada’s interest to simply wait for a federal law that may never come, or may come in a form disadvantageous to the state’s primary industry.

A move is under way to create interstate compacts, in which an online poker system available initially only to Nevada residents is made available to residents in other states that have moved to legalize their own in-state poker games.

The approach is similar to agreements Nevada has struck with other Colorado River states for the use and storage of scarce water resources, in lieu of a more comprehensive rewriting of water laws at the federal level. But unlike water – which flows only through certain states – online poker has no geographical limits. Residents of next-door California would be able to gamble at online Nevada casinos just as easily as residents of far-off New Jersey, and vice versa.

Such a strategy would be good for Nevada casinos, and good for online gamblers who want choices and competition. But to do it, Nevada’s Legislature must pass Assembly Bill 5, devised by Nevada’s Gaming Control Board and the governor’s office. The measure would allow Gov. Brian Sandoval to sign compacts with colleagues in other states that have legalized online poker.

Lawmakers should make passing AB 5 a top priority after the first gavel descends in Carson City next month.

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