Hit ground running: Nevada wise to move on Internet poker issue

Online gaming offers Nevada the best available opportunity to grow its economy, says Reno businessman Paul Mathews Jr., a member of the governor’s newly revived Gaming Policy Committee and co-owner of a company that develops online computer games.

"It’s time for Nevada to be able to leverage its regulatory apparatus to our benefit," Mr. Mathews said at the panel’s first public hearing Wednesday. "We need to take what we do around the block and around the world. In order to do that, we need some legislation."

Gov. Brian Sandoval revived the long-dormant committee this year, primarily to help the state address the growing potential of Internet gaming. He said he wants the committee to meet four times before the end of August and issue a report for the Legislature after the final meeting.

So far, more than two dozen casino operators and gaming equipment manufacturers have applied for Nevada interactive gaming licenses. Gaming Control Board Chairman Mark Lipparelli said state regulators could conduct public hearings on the first of those applications in May or June.

The revelation last December that the Justice Department no longer believes the federal Wire Act of 1961 applies to online poker has spurred a race for licenses to operate within single states, but Mr. Mathews joined others in arguing uniform federal regulation would be the best solution for poker, avoiding the current cumbersome prospect of business entities having to operate under 17 varying state jurisdictions.

"The best opportunity is to legalize poker on the federal level and let Nevada regulate it," Mr. Mathews said. "That way we can prove we can do this right."

Gov. Sandoval is doing the wise thing in attempting to get out in front of this issue.

"We estimate the U.S. online poker market at $5 billion in revenue, relative to the current $24 billion global Internet gaming market and (the) $33 billion commercial casino market in the U.S.," Union Gaming Group analyst Bill Lerner wrote in a report last year. "In our opinion, the commercialization of online poker is a 2013 event."

Nevadans’ decades of experience in gaming regulation make the Silver State the obvious choice to be awarded the federal regulatory "franchise" over this entertainment, a taxable enterprise that industry insiders estimate could generate revenues for the state near $3 billion per year.

Becoming the capital of legal online poker might not solve all of Nevada’s current economic problems, but it would certainly be a big step in the right direction.

The key, as Gov. Sandoval has realized, is to be ready, when the time comes, to hit the ground running.

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