he bill would ask state gambling regulators to create rules for Internet poker operators and companies that make related equipment. It would also specifically prevent the Nevada Gaming Commission from denying a license to popular existing poker sites, like PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, just because they have been operating offshore in a legal gray area after a federal law effectively banned online gambling in 2006.
Assembly Bill 258 could give the green light to agreements such as the deal between Caesars Interactive Entertainment and Dragonfish, which received approval from the Nevada State Gaming Control Board (GCB).
The Nevada bill states that licences cannot be denied to operators “solely because the operator...operates, operated or was associated with, in interstate or foreign commerce and while licensed by another jurisdiction.”
It also states that such a denial cannot be issued to those “which were unlicensed in the United States or the State of Nevada and in which bets or wagers were initiated, received or otherwise made by persons located in the United States.”
Alan Feldman, spokesman for MGM Resorts International, said the federal law needs to be fixed first. "I think everyone's objective should be to get the proper bill passed, and to do so federally," he said. "The business model ought to be following sound public policy, and the Nevada bill is actually a pretty good model of getting a business model way far ahead of anyone's policy."
MGM Resorts, a publicly traded company that counts billionaire Kirk Kerkorian among its major investors, is Nevada's largest employer. But Feldman said the proposal introduced by Assemblyman William Horne is flawed. "Online poker has been growing like gangbusters," said, "It will provide a new source of revenue that we aren't able to enjoy right now."
The bill opens up the possibility of partnerships between established Nevada casinos and major offshore poker operators, said Jeff Ifrah, a Washington D.C.-based lawyer who represents a Canada-based trade association for online casinos. But casino companies that oppose it would rather have exclusive competition than give players what they want, he said.
"If the state is serious about raising revenue for this endeavour, then it needs to be able to obtain the participation of the leading operators," said Ifrah, who represents the Interactive Gaming Council in litigation. The council counts PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker among its members.
The American Gaming Association, the casino industry's largest trade group, declined to comment on the bill.
But the world's largest gambling company, Caesars Entertainment, immediately criticized it even though it has been pushing to legalize online poker in the United States.
"This is not a bill that we support," said Jan Jones, Caesars' Senior Vice President for communications and public relations. "Our focus is not intrastate, our focus is interstate. It's federal, it's putting together an American, an appropriate regulation and licensing regime and taking the jobs and revenues going to foreign companies and bringing it back to America."
Jones said the bill introduced isn't the right way to legalize online poker because it's state-only legislation.