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U.S. Senator Expects Bill Banning Online Gambling

Congressman Dean Heller Agrees With Sheldon Adelson

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A U.S. senator from Nevada wants forms of online gambling, except poker, to be banned by the federal government. Such efforts face extremely long odds, however.

Sen. Dean Heller, a Republican, agrees with some of the concerns from Las Vegas Sands Corp. owner Sheldon Adelson. The casino boss thinks online games will take away from brick-and-mortar play. Sands is the largest casino developer in the world, in terms of market size, making billions from its Asian holdings.

“I think Adelson brings up some reasonable concerns,” Heller told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “And to have the wild wild West as an empire of gambling for the country would have some serious social implications. And I think that’s what he’s concerned with.”

Now, Nevada currently has legal online gaming in the form of just poker, however there’s indication that plans are to expand those offerings in the near future. New Jersey and Delaware casinos offer Internet gambling that includes more than just poker.

Heller and Adelson’s opinions conflict with what the prevailing sentiment is in Las Vegas — that Internet gambling will compliment the brick-and-mortar business, and that sufficient safeguards are there to keep minors and some addicts from playing. Nevada lawmakers seem ready to authorize more than just poker. It’s just a matter of time.

It makes sense, after all, because poker represents one of the tiniest revenue streams for casinos in the Silver State — around one percent. Slot machines account for around 60 percent of overall gaming revenue. Keeping it poker-only doesn’t make economic sense, even with partnerships with other states. California is probably an exception.

According to the Review-Journal, Heller expects a bill to be introduced within the next month or so. It could be a joint effort from him and fellow Nevada Sen. Harry Reid.

Don’t expect such a bill to pass, however. It’s unlikely, just as it is for Congress to legalize online poker or any other form of web gambling. One reason for the former is that New Jersey is already realizing Internet gambling revenues, and federal officials would almost surely not try to stop that. It would be a political nightmare. What is more likely is the federal government getting its way in preventing New Jersey from offering sports betting, but that’s a slightly different topic.

While some of the same gambling firms do business in both Nevada and New Jersey, the states in some sense are in competition for becoming online gambling hubs in the United States. In this light, Heller might, in some strange way, be trying to help ensure Nevada has an edge. Or it could be a way to appease Adelson, a historic donor for Republicans.

Adelson is behind the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, which launched early this year. The group has hired lobbyists — including former high-ranking elected officials — to work both at the state and federal levels to oppose the spread of online games. Much of it is in the form public relations. Adelson said he would spend “whatever it takes” and the group is the product of those dollars. Since Sands only has casinos in Nevada and Pennsylvania, it’s assumed that those states are where the Coalition will have the most influence outside of Capitol Hill.

Expect a Heller bill to be dead in the water, and the slow process of more states legalizing forms of online gambling to continue. California (poker-only) could be next.