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Nevada Senator Dean Heller says only online poker should be allowed per the 1961 Wire Act, and wants to introduce federal legislation to back that up (Image:

Federal legislation to prohibit all forms of online gambling except poker will be introduced “within the month or so”, U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-Nev) told sources this week. Heller has been working with his colleague Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev) to restore the strict interpretation of the 1961 Wire Act, which was used to prohibit online gambling, particularly sports betting, before a Department of Justice reinterpretation relaxed the law in the favor of the Illinois and New York State lotteries several years ago.

Protecting Land Gaming, Heller Says

This news probably won’t go over well with the likes of casino giants Caesars and Station Casinos, which have spent millions investing in online gambling in Nevada and New Jersey, as well as lobbying for its expansion into other states; although in Nevada, at least, poker is all either casino operator has going online anyway for now, by dictates of the Gaming Commission. Ironically, however, it’s the Las Vegas casinos that Heller claims he wants to protect, arguing that online gambling would destroy Nevada’s gambling and tourism industries.

“[Caesars and Station Casinos] are corporate entities and they believe they can play the game,” Heller said. “They’re corporate entities. They’ve got to keep their shareholders happy … They’ve made the determination that they can compete in that market … I think the devastation for brick and mortar [casinos] in this state … would just be a final nail, I think, in keeping these businesses healthy,” added the Senator.

This puts Heller sort of, kind of in camp with Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson, and Steve Wynn, who also recently spoke out against online gambling; Adelson and new ally Wynn, however, don’t want any Internet gambling options whatsoever, not even poker, which is all that Nevada now offers anyway (with that not likely to change anytime soon).

Sands, of course, operates luxury Las Vegas Strip casinos the Venetian and Palazzo, while Wynn has his eponymous property, as well the Encore, close by. Adelson has been a vociferous opponent of online gambling and, as chairman of the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG) which he created, claims his objections are “moral”; saying that online gambling promotes social ills in a way that his own land-based form of gambling doesn’t. Adelson has pledged to spend “whatever it takes” to defeat any pro-Internet gambling bill.

“I think Adelson brings up some reasonable concerns,” said Heller, who confirmed he had discussed the situation with Adelson, as well as the pro Internet gambling lobby. “And to have the wild, wild West as an empire of gambling for the country would have some serious social implications. And I think that’s what he’s concerned with.

“We’re trying to keep it from being just a Nevada issue,” he added. “So Harry and I are trying to look for help from members in each of our conferences to come forward with legislation that, hopefully, long-term, provides a solution for us.”

Expecting Opposition

Heller acknowledges that his and Reid’s efforts will receive strong opposition from the pro-online gambling camps, but adds that they are simply trying to do “what’s best for the state of Nevada.”

“Right now there’s a majority probably around here that want nothing done,” he said. “You know, they want it Wild Wild West when it comes to Internet gambling. And I don’t think that’s good.

“You have members of the AGA [American Gaming Association] taking one position, then you have members [ e.g., Adelson and Wynn] taking a different position,” Heller said. “So it’s kind of tough trying to keep on the straight and narrow … when this is an issue that changes every day — who’s for it and who’s against it.”

The AGA has officially taken up a pro-Internet stance, despite some member opposition, and backs the new Coalition for Consumer and Online Protections (C4COP) that was created to fight back against Adelson’s CSIG group.

One camp that could take positives from the Heller interview will be the Poker Players’ Alliance (PPA), an organization which has long campaigned for poker to be recognized by the government as a game of skill – and one that should be legislated for separately from other forms of gambling. To the PPA, Heller’s direct acknowledgement of this, and declaration that “There is no daylight between where Senator Reid and myself are on this particular issue,” will be seen as a step in the right direction.