Internet gambling revisions supported by casinos

WASHINGTON — The gambling industry’s top lobbyist agreed to support an Internet gambling bill Tuesday after the House lawmaker who is pushing the legislation apparently agreed to key changes allowing such gambling in Nevada.

The American Gaming Association had opposed a bill being pushed by Rep. Robert Goodlatte, R-Va. But AGA President Frank Fahrenkopf said the lobby group’s board of directors, meeting in Las Vegas, agreed Tuesday to support the legislation — if two key changes are made.

Goodlatte has agreed to make the two changes, Fahrenkopf said. Goodlatte was not available for comment today. The Judiciary Committee could discuss the changes at a hearing Thursday.

Goodlatte’s bill is aimed at outlawing the unregulated world of Internet gambling, a difficult task that lawmakers have grappled with for six years as cyber casinos have grown into a $1.6 billion industry.

Goodlatte has sought support for his legislation from a variety of groups, including the influential AGA. But Fahrenkopf objected to two specific details in Goodlatte’s latest bill.

One centered on a state’s right to regulate Internet gambling. No state has legalized Internet gambling — yet — although it thrives nationwide, in part because of off-shore website operators.

Several Nevada companies, including MGM MIRAGE and Station Casinos Inc., are poised to offer Internet gaming if Nevada lawmakers one day make it legal.

Fahrenkopf lobbied Goodlatte to revise his bill so that Internet gambling would be allowed within a state if the state decided to legalize it. The change also would allow Internet bets to be taken from people in other states where ‘Net gambling is legal.

“It’s fundamental states’ rights,” Fahrenkopf said.

The other change centered on horse race wagering. Under changes made in recent years to the Interstate Horse Racing Act, Internet gambling on horse races can be perceived as technically legal, Fahrenkopf said.

But Goodlatte’s legislation would make wagering on horse races in Nevada sports books illegal, putting the books at an unfair disadvantage, Fahrenkopf said. So Goodlatte is said to have agreed to revise that language, at the AGA’s urging.

“We’re making it very clear that what is presently done in Nevada is still going to be legal,” Fahrenkopf said.

It’s not clear if the Judiciary Committee, scheduled to meet Thursday, will accept the two changes.

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