Doubtful online poker will be passed this year, trade official says

The gaming industry will need a little gambler’s luck to get Internet poker legislation passed in the lame-duck session after the November election, a trade association official said.

Frank Fahrenkopf, president and CEO of the American Gaming Association, said he’s skeptical that a bill can be approved before new lawmakers take office in January.

Fahrenkopf addressed reporters this morning before today’s opening of the trade show floor for the 12th Global Gaming Expo at the Venetian.

Fahrenkopf said he isn’t concerned about Republicans seizing control of the Senate, even though the party has opposed legalizing Internet poker in its platform.

He said the AGA would emphasize that a bill to legalize Internet poker would be beneficial to those opposing online gambling because it restricts play to poker only, would carry restrictions that would protect against underage play and would strengthen the Wire Act and the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., have drafted legislation to legalize Internet poker, but Fahrenkopf said it’s likely to be low on the list of legislative priorities.

Fahrenkopf said 85 countries have legalized some form of Internet wagering, and about $34.9 billion is bet annually by some 33 million players worldwide. That includes millions of dollars bet illegally from the United States.

The association has advocated a national framework for Internet poker to avoid a “patchwork quilt” of differing state laws. He cited Nevada’s leadership in developing online poker regulations and particularly the work of outgoing Gaming Control Board Chairman Mark Lipparelli in licensing intrastate poker play.

Fahrenkopf also said he wasn’t bothered by Las Vegas Sands Chairman Sheldon Adelson’s opposition to approving Internet poker.

“Sheldon has been transparent and straightforward with me and the other members of the industry,” he said. “This is his own personal view. It is not the position of Las Vegas Sands (parent company of the Venetian). Most of his executives are very much in the same area as most of the executives of the other companies are. He’s entitled to his view. I’ve seen no evidence of him being out there working against us or anything of that nature.”

Despite some of the setbacks the industry has experienced on Internet poker, Fahrenkopf is still convinced it eventually will be passed and that online play is the next frontier for the industry.

“It’s no longer a matter of if online gambling will be legalized in the U.S., but when, where and how,” he said.

The expansion of the gaming industry could occur as a result of election results. Fahrenkopf said there are gaming expansion initiatives on ballots in Oregon, Rhode Island and Maryland in November. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed legislation that would have expanded gaming in that state.

Gross gaming revenue from land-based casinos, meanwhile, is up 6 percent from 2011, Fahrenkopf said, and 18 of 21 states that offer casino-style gambling have seen increases. Nevada is among them.

That’s expected to grow even more with new casino openings planned in Ohio, Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts.

On the international front, Fahrenkopf said, while growth has slowed in Macau, other countries are expected to enter the game in Latin America and the Middle East. Macau could be further impacted by new casinos in Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines and, possibly, Japan, he said. He also said the industry is watching to see how new government policies could shape the gaming landscape in Singapore.

Fahrenkopf also said there is growing concern within the industry about so-called Internet sweepstakes cafes.

The AGA issued a white paper last month about cafes that sell a product — often Internet time or long-distance telephone minutes — and offer entries to a sweepstakes that plays like a slot machine. The AGA says café owners aren’t regulated or subject to criminal background checks, and they siphon money from state-licensed casinos, race tracks and lotteries.

Fahrenkopf, who has been the AGA’s president and CEO since 1995, made his remarks before leaving for Denver for Wednesday’s presidential debate. The former chair of the Republican National Committee is co-chairman of the Commission on Presidential Debates.

The trade show floor at G2E, a showcase of the latest technology in slot machines and table games, opened this morning.

Last month, the AGA announced that more than 400 companies would exhibit on more than 259,000 square feet of exhibit hall space — a 4 percent increase over the size of the show last year.

More than 65 international exhibitors planned to be at the four-day show, which is expected to draw more than 26,000 people.

A series of more than 100 panels and presentations are scheduled at the event, which is not open to the public.