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Online poker bill clears Senate committee

Rod Boshart, CR Gazette –

DES MOINES – A measure aimed at bringing illegal online poker under state regulation rolled through a Senate committee Wednesday evening.

Members of the Senate State Government Committee voted 11-4 to allow the state Racing and Gaming Commission to establish a structure whereby competing hub operators would partner with state-licensed casinos to provide access to online sites for registered players ages 21 and older who were located within Iowa’s borders at the time they engaged in the Internet-based activity. Out-of-state residents would be able to come to an Iowa casino, establish an account and play during the time they were residing in Iowa under the bill that authorizes both interstate and intrastate agreements.

“I don’t see this as an expansion of gambling,” said Sen. Rick Bertrand, R-Sioux City. “I see this as an expansion of freedom.”

Proponents said illegal offshore gambling operations already are conducting online poker web sites that conduct up to $100 million in estimated gambling activity in Iowa in an unregulated, “wild, wild West” atmosphere.

“We have a situation in Iowa where Iowa citizens are not being protected. This will do that,” said Sen. Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock. He said bringing the activity under state regulation would halt unscrupulous operations from “preying on Iowans.”

Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Waterloo, said Iowa currently has an untenable circumstance where online poker is neither prohibited nor legal. He said the structure envisioned in Senate Study Bill 3164 would bring a thoughtful policy to a problem, enable the state to bar anyone associated with illegal gambling operations from doing business in Iowa, and capture economic activity leaving the state while generating revenue via state fees charged to hub operators and an expected rise in revenue from state-licensed operations.

Three Republican senators and one Democrat voted against the bill, which opponents argue will bring a highly addictive form of gambling directly to Iowans’ computers and hand-held electronic devices. No one spoke against the bill during Wednesday evening’s committee meeting.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said online poker had a 50-50 chance of winning approval by the full Senate – odds that he speculated were better than the prospects that the issue may receive in the Republican-controlled House. Wednesday’s committee action meant the online poker issue would remain eligible for more legislative work having met the criteria necessary to survive a Friday “funnel” deadline for measures to clear a standing committee in either chamber to remain alive this session.

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