he most avant-garde piece would allow state-regulated casinos to allow Iowans ages 21 and older to play online poker on their personal computers.
Approved gamblers would put cash into special accounts, set maximum limits for bets and length of play, then log on to a password-protected website to play cards at a virtual poker table.
It would also settle a long-running dispute between the state's horse breeders and the Altoona racetrack over how purse money should be divvied up, and would let casinos off the hook for referendum votes, according to a copy of the freshly drafted bill obtained last Thursday.
It would be "a win-win" for Iowans who gamble and for those who don't, with a mix of gambling policy that has merit, said state Senador Jeff Danielson, D-Waterloo, chairman of the Senate committee that will closely examine the bill.
Internet gambling is illegal, untaxed and unregulated in the United States, but federal law permits states to legalize and regulate it as long as the gambling takes place only within that state's borders.
No state currently allows online gambling, but a bill approved by New Jersey legislators is sitting on the governor's desk awaiting his signature, and bills are being considered in Florida and California.
An estimated 150,000 Iowans are already illegally playing online poker, depriving the state of $30 million to $35 million in gaming taxes each year, Kirk Uhler, Vice President of Government affairs for U.S. Digital Gaming, said.
The new Internet poker network would be regulated by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission. One vendor would run a website hub that would allow casinos that choose to participate to offer only poker games, such as Texas Hold 'em, Omaha or five-card stud.
Iowans could register for an account in person at a state-regulated casino, by mail, by telephone or by electronic means, the bill says. They would play only with fellow Iowans, and would have a place to lodge a complaint if there's a problem.
Several Iowa casinos have expressed an interest in the concept, but haven't yet seen the bill, said Wes Ehrecke, President of the Iowa Gaming Association, an industry trade group that represents all 17 state-regulated casinos.
Under the proposed bill, voters would no longer have the option every eight years to decide whether a casino should continue operations.
All the existing casinos have gotten "yes" votes at least twice, with an average of 78 % approval in fall 2010 and 74 % in 2002. Ehrecke said that's proof that Iowans consider them an important part of the state's economy.
Each casino's license must be renewed every year by the Racing and Gaming Commission, so Iowans could still express concerns, he said.
The bill would also make several changes to horse racing laws. It would finalize how purses at Prairie Meadows Racetrack & Casino in Altoona would be shared, a bone of contention for the racetrack and horsemen for years.
Another key piece: Gamblers could use an advanced deposit method of wagering at Prairie Meadows. They could place money in a special account, then use the balance to place bets for horse races by telephone, website "or other electronic means."