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Commercial Casinos In 'Full-Court Press' To Legalize Online Poker During Lame Duck

American Gaming Association President Chats With Card Player


As the lame duck session drags on, online poker advocates from the commercial casino industry in the nation’s capital are engaged in a “full-court press” to get something done, said Frank Fahrenkopf, president of the industry’s top lobbying group.

“Without swift congressional action, the U.S. will soon see the largest expansion of legal gambling in its history,” he warned.

The odds are long to turn around what Fahrenkopf describes as a “status quo year” for online gaming efforts on behalf of the country’s leading gaming firms. The American Gaming Association consists of giants such as MGM Resorts and Caesars Entertainment.

The lame duck push marks the final attempt of 2012 from what he outlined in a January op-ed.

Fahrenkopf said he’s hopeful about the draft of bill from Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and didn’t want to speculate on web poker being legalized under an omnibus bill.

The bill would likely be poker-only. Poker is widely regarded as skill-based and might be the only form of web gambling that could get widespread support one day.

However, poker is viewed by many in the industry — especially tech firms headquartered in Nevada — as a gateway into other games. Whether a Reid-Kyl bill could give room for states to oversee online slots, for example, within their boarders remains to be seen.

Fahrenkopf said that the proposal is still a “work in progress.”

The issue is extremely delicate.

An online poker site, by nature, requires a large pool of players to make it thrive. Thus, intrastate poker sites don’t make a whole lot of sense for businesses seeking to maximize their profits. A federal bill would make it easier for nationwide liquidity.

But, the game of poker, since the house collects a small part of each pot, isn’t quite the cash cow when compared to other casino games. For example, live poker in Nevada makes only a tiny piece of overall gaming revenue.

So, poker as an enjoyable pastime for many has been caught in an awkward political spot. It’s simultaneously the grand prize for the commercial casino games industry on Capitol Hill and a placeholder of sorts in the intrastate context.

The commercial casino industry is only one part to the puzzle, as tribal casinos and state lotteries are also looking to get in on the action. Fahrenkopf said that lotteries — which gained new power in December 2011 — are the “loudest folks against this legislation.”

Fahrenkopf admitted that most lawmakers on Capitol Hill haven’t paid much attention to the issue and if efforts don’t materialize in the lame duck, it’s back to the drawing board.

While online casino games still remain far out on the horizon, 2012 has been productive for gambling businesses, as many states have looked to authorizing land-based commercial casinos, as well as online lottery sales, to shore up their budget deficits.

In that sense, real-money wagering has been a huge winner this year.

Follow Brian Pempus on Twitter — @brianpempus