Las Vegas Sun

August 1, 2015

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WHERE I STAND:

For sake of jobs, time to legalize online poker

It is about jobs, jobs, jobs.

The Republican presidential debaters, those who actually showed up, have come and gone and left behind a slew of mixed messages. One of the messages that came through loud and clear, and this despite your political leanings to the left or right, is that most of the players who were on the Sands Expo stage are not yet ready for prime time.

The front-runners acted like children and those who are seemingly also-rans acted like, well, also-rans. Whether you agree with them or not, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich acted the most grown-up of the bunch.

The other message that came through, albeit without much meat on its bones, was the absolute need to create jobs. Across the country and, especially, here in Nevada. And do it now! None of the candidates were very specific about how they could or would help those of us who are living in and trying to work at ground zero.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t people trying to help.

What seemed like a missed opportunity to create thousands of jobs for Nevada in last year’s lame duck session of Congress may be presenting itself once again. This time, I hope, those who are claiming to care about Nevada and the country’s jobless will act appropriately.

I am talking about Internet poker.

As a matter of full disclosure, my family may find a way of participating in what could be the next gambling frontier — the virtual world — as would many tens of thousands of other Nevadans. So my bias has some personal gain attached but nowhere near the general benefit I see for all of us who live and work in this state.

Billions and billions of dollars are bet annually on Internet poker. A significant number of those billions are bet by players in the United States. And there is no reason to believe that the growth of that industry will be slowed anytime soon. I know many people who hold Nevada gaming licenses who gamble on the Internet. I know many college students who gamble on the Internet. I know many ordinary folks who gamble on the Internet. They love it. And they see no reason to stop playing.

Did I mention that gambling on the Internet is illegal in the United States?

The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 was supposed to stop all forms of Internet gambling in this country. Since its passage, millions of people have joined the ranks of players who cared more about the enjoyment they got from playing online than they did any threat of enforcement action by the authorities. In short, they flaunted the law, a law that made criminals out of regular folks who just wanted to have fun.

And it wasn’t until the federal government earlier this year indicted some of the major Internet poker companies that were illegally accepting wagers from the United States that most people realized how pervasive this illegal activity actually was. Furthermore, the players learned that in some cases they and their money were part of some Ponzi scheme that left them high and dry without enough of their own money for an ante.

In short, people went broke before they ever made a bet!

So we have a new ballgame. The impetus now is where it rightly needs to be. The emphasis must be on security and enforcement. Making sure that those who do play on the Internet are of age and mentally fit is a top priority. Also, making sure there is sufficient regulation of those who run the games is a must. And, finally, it doesn’t hurt that through regulating the industry there is ample and willing opportunity to create new revenue streams for the federal and state governments.

For Nevada, the benefits should be obvious. It seems clear that there won’t be too many new hotels built in Las Vegas for quite some time. Capital investment will probably be limited to creating changes within existing structures or adding new amenities. But we still need to find ways to grow because through growth comes financial security and job opportunities.

Every industry in this country is trying to find the ways and means to use the Internet to advance its distribution and sales channels. Why shouldn’t our gaming industry? With multiple billions of dollars invested in this state, it seems the logical move would be to capitalize on the expertise of those who work inside those buildings. And to do it without the capital costs for expanded bricks and mortar just makes sense.

If this thing is done right, states like Nevada — whose Legislature and gaming authorities have made sure we are ready and able to act should the time come — could lead the way in licensing and enforcement because we have the expertise necessary to regulate this new industry. In so doing, tens of thousands of jobs could find their way to Nevada through companies that desire to locate here to be part of our regulatory scheme. That, in turn, will bring hundreds of millions of dollars in tax money to our much-depleted coffers.

It isn’t a complete panacea but it is a start. In the end, amending the UIGEA to provide for proper enforcement and regulation can be the shot in the arm that Nevada needs.

It also could remove from the annals of criminal behavior the hundreds of thousands of Americans who just want to play poker with a credible company and, perhaps, win.

Las Vegas knows how to do that.

Brian Greenspun is the publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.

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