Internet gambling: It’s here, deal with it; Another delay in Massachusetts

It’s ironic that Sheldon Adelson is expending so much lungpower and cash to try and block federal legitimization of Internet poker and possibly other games. Washington has been left in the dust by individual states and, if it did try to cobble something together, it’s going to look like a grubby attempt to horn in on individual states’ bounty. While Sheldon is shaking his fist at phantoms, Delaware is on the verge and Nevada is already ‘all in.’

So far in that the Nevada Gaming Policy Committee is having to grapple with the consequences of the Nevada Gaming Commission‘s failure to impose a governing standard for online security — and being two years away from having one. Oops. Meanwhile, the NGC is going to be handing out licenses, starting next month.

Not helping matters was MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren, who’s seeking to have application fees — y’know, the money that pay for background checks and enforcement — reduced by 60%. It’s unseemly, to say the least, to go up to Toronto and talk about spending as much as $5 billion on a megaresort, then come home to Nevada and squawk about a lousy 500 grand. MGM spent a lot more than that just to redesign the Aria buffet — y’know, the real important stuff, not fiddle-faddle like secure Internet transactions. Of course, if I had a dodgy business partner like Bwin.Party, I’d probably want to starve the regulatory budget, too. Nevada could try to compel casino operators to develop their online operations in-house … but Big Gaming would balk at the expense and inconvenience. Thus we have defeatist rhetoric like NGC Chairman Mark Liparelli‘s beaten-down, “I don’t think as we look at companies that we can have perfection as the standard, because I think that would be a disservice to the state in attracting business here.”

Translation: If we want that revenue, we’re gonna have to let a few crooks through the door … perhaps even the memorably named Anurag Dikshit (left). Isn’t it nice to know that felony convictions which would bar your or I from getting a job are no longer a barrier to a Nevada gambling license … if you’ve got friends in the right places? Big Gaming didn’t exactly cover itself with glory by scurrying like mice when Reuters came calling, asking tough question.

At an estimated $400 million a year, the U.S. cyber-poker market isn’t going to provide a lot of “rake” to go around. But it’s enough to get $8 million lobbyist dollars flowing into Sacramento, as various gambling interests in California jockey for position. Also fattening his coffers is state Senate gaming-oversight chairman Roderick Wright (D, left). He makes a sorry standard-bearer for online gambling, being under indictment for perjury and voter fraud. Turning adversity into advantage, Wright’s been getting gaming interests to pay his legal bills. Among those rolling out the red carpet for this dubious character are Barona Luxury Casino Hotel, Del Mar, Rolling Hills Casino and Chukchansi Casino, who can’t be accused of not knowing how to grease the levers of power.

In addition to various tribes and parimutuels, Caesars Entertainment and Betfair have also been making their presence felt in Sacramento. However, many of interested parties are working at cross purposes. SB 1463 is a sleazy end-run around tribal exclusivity, making casino games available online to card rooms and racinos two years after enactment. (If Murren thinks Nevada is expensive, California wants a $30 million down payment per Web site. Yeouch!) Hence, some tribes demand that the online offerings limited to poker while other bands want to kill SB 1463 outright.

Given California’s desperate budgetary straits, that’s unlikely to happen. However, when California Tribal Business Alliance Chairwoman Leslie Lohse (above) calls the bill “a harsh slap in the face to California Indian tribes,” she’s not exaggerating in the slightest.

As though casinos in the great state of Illinois weren’t feeling sufficiently beleaguered by the threat of 11 new casinos and racinos, plus the advancing specter of slot routes, here comes ‘Net betting. State Senate President John Cullerton (D, left) wants to set up an Internet-poker division within the Illinois Lottery. Unfortunately for him, he waited until the waning days of the current Legislature to have this brainwave and Gov. Pat Quinn (D) is clearly uninterested in helping him rush it through Springfield. The shark-fin ban that’s sitting on Quinn’s desk has a lot better chance than does Cullerton’s half-baked effort. As Chicago Cubs fans are used to saying, Wait ’til next year.

Casino applicants over yonder in Massachusetts are going to have to move a little further to the back of the line on May 20. That’s when the nascent Massachusetts Gaming Commission has the responsibility of adjudicating the state’s horseracing industry dumped onto its already crowded plate. On the plus side, this gives Suffolk Downs owner Richard Fields a chance to get friendly with the folks who are going to be hearing his racino application next year.

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