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Pessimism Swirls Around Federal Online Gaming Bill at iGaming North America Conference in Las Vegas

States Looking To Move Ahead On Their Own In 2012

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A federal regime to oversee an online gaming industry is drawing slim, many of gaming’s top minds articulated at the iGaming North America Conference, which wrapped up Tuesday in Las Vegas, Nevada.

A Department of Justice letter released in December 2011, which clarified the 1961 Interstate Wire Act to apply to sports betting and not broad Internet gaming, was a major presence during the meetings held at Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino on The Strip.

One panel specifically discussed the implications of the legal clarification, and, at times, were at odds over its significance.

Bryce Geoffrey, counsel for Lock Gaming Group, said that prior to December the Wire Act was already somewhat irrelevant for Internet gaming, since the DOJ indictments of April 2011 didn’t include any charges of violating the decades-old law.

Katie Lever, Executive Vice President of Shuffle Master, disagreed with her colleague, saying that neutering the Wire Act removes a barrier for creating liquidity for the industry. States legalizing online poker now have the opportunity to form compacts in order to establish larger player pools.

Jon Brennan, Director of iMEGA, was more in line with Geoffrey, pointing out that online poker was never mentioned in the letter, which was addressed to state lotteries.

When news broke that the DOJ was flip-flopping on the arcane law riddled with ambiguities, many in the poker world were wondering how it would affect efforts to pass a federal bill. The answer floating around in March is that it won’t.

Brennan said that the opinion “doesn’t shape the federal narrative.” He also said that there is a “general ambivalence” on Capitol Hill and that there isn’t “enough for anybody” to see a federal piece of legislation come to fruition.

According to Lever, there is “no desire to get this done.” Geoffrey piled on by saying that the U.S. government has “bigger fish to fry.”

Professor I. Nelson Rose, who recently testified before Congress on the issue of Internet gaming, was in the audience and spoke briefly about how states can and will move ahead rapidly even without action from Washington D.C.

The discussion between the three panelists and Rose was lively and colorful, despite some disagreement on the implications of the letter.

In a separate panel on regulations for the industry, Peter Bernhard, the Chairman of Nevada’s top regulatory body, said that it’s crucial for Nevada to have other states jump on board in order to create a healthy market for online poker.

“Lets see if it works in a less liquid environment,” he said, referring to Nevada’s entry being just intrastate at first.

In a time slot for a “Visionaries Panel,” John Taylor, Chairman of Twin River Casino, said that there will be one more attempt to pass federal legislation in 2012, and there is less than a 15 percent chance of it being successful.

Follow Brian Pempus on Twitter — @brianpempus