Online poker bill clears Iowa Senate panel

Rod Boshart - The Quad-City Times | Posted: Monday, February 20, 2012 6:44 pm

DES MOINES — A Senate subcommittee on Monday approved a bill designed to legalize online poker in Iowa and bring it under state regulation. 

Approval came despite warnings from opponents that computer-based gaming is highly addictive and likely would usher in full-blown online gambling that will be available at Iowans’ finger tips via a myriad of hand-held electronic devices.

“This is just the beginning,” said Danny Carroll, a Family Leader official and former state lawmaker.

He asked the three-member Senate panel to consider Iowa families and the impact more gambling will have before the senators voted to send Senate Study Bill 3164 to the Senate State Government Committee, which could consider it as early as Wednesday.

“The people of Iowa do not want it,” he said, citing Iowa and national polls indicating a plurality of opposition to legalizing online poker.

Carroll said a better message would be to publicly declare online poker as a dangerous game that should not be played and to offer Iowa as a place where families could come with an assurance it would not be offered here.

Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Waterloo, said, however, that prohibition has failed in other areas and the preferred approach is to bring an illegal wagering activity estimated at between $30 million and $100 million annually under state regulation to protect Iowans and attempt to curb underage players.

“Today the policy is do nothing by default,” Danielson said, noting the “wild, wild West” environment of unregulated online poker is further complicated by a vague federal approach to the topic.

The proposed legislation would authorize the creation of an online poker network and provide a regulatory structure for its implementation, operation and taxation. The bill would allow intrastate, interstate and international arrangements, and the expansion would operate under the state’s current gaming fee structure, he said.

Competing hub operators would be able to partner with state-licensed casinos under the control of the state Racing and Gaming Commission to operate affiliated online sites for registered players ages 21 and older who are within Iowa’s borders at the time they are playing. Danielson said out-of-state residents would be able to go to an Iowa casino, establish an account and play during the time they were in Iowa.

“We have it out there. It needs to be controlled,” said Sen. Wally Horn, D-Cedar Rapids.

“I agree something has to be done at this point,” said Sen. Rick Bertrand, R-Sioux City. “I see this as an opportunity for Iowa to get out in front of this.”

Wes Ehrecke of the Iowa Gaming Association, an umbrella group that represents 18 state-regulated casinos, said his members generally are supportive of the concept, especially if there is no exclusivity offered to one hub operator. The group prefers passage of a federal law to address online gaming from a national perspective but, absent that, it generally favors a plan to allow Internet poker on the casinos’ “platform,” regulated by the state commission and with reciprocity to enter into partnerships with Nevada, the District of Columbia and other states that legalize the games.

Tom Chapman of the Iowa Catholic Conference said his group opposed the measure because of concerns that minors will have the creativity to participate in a “particularly dangerous” and addictive form of gambling.

“We do believe it will result in a greater number of people getting addicted to gambling,” he told subcommittee members.

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