The Wall Street Journal reports US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s staffers are circulating a bill that would make internet poker legal, and possibly wants to get it passed this month.
The future of online gambling is of interest to officials in Missouri, too.
Les Hahn, a Gaming enforcement manager with the Missouri Gaming Commission, says he’s been tracking the growth of online gambling for the past four or five years.
“The traditional casino operators are absolutely keeping their finger on the pulse of what’s going on with internet gaming. In a lot of ways it’s the next new growth market. We’ve seen kind of a paradigm shift in industry over the last few years. A few years back it was kind of like, ‘No, we don’t want that. It’s going to detract from our business and people will just sit in their pajamas and gamble and won’t come out to our properties.’ Well, There’s reason to believe now that may not be the case and I think we’ve seen a gradual transition in opinions,” Hahn said.
Hahn says gaming officials once saw online gaming as a threat, and some now see it as an opportunity. Just last week, Quebec started offering online poker legally through its lottery. Lawmakers in California and New Jersey are also contemplating ways to get a piece of the online poker ‘boom.’
“Largely I think because of the economic conditions, every jurisdiction is looking for some smart way to enhance revenue. A lot of jurisdictions are seeing internet gambling of some sort, poker or casino type games, as one possible source of revenue,” Hahn said.
But he says it’s not always a popular issue.
“We’re seeing both directions. We’re seeing efforts to strengthen the criminal enforcement of unlawful gaming and we’re seeing efforts to legalize it,” Hahn said.
For instance, Washington state is considering investigating online poker players through gathering evidence by going undercover online.
“There are a lot of internet crime task forces that are being constructed and local law enforcement agencies that are working on internet crime. But for obvious reasons, their primary focus has been on ‘victim’ crime. Harassment, child abuse, endangering the welfare of children, that sort of thing,” Hahn said
Hahn says online poker is seen as more of a ‘victimless’ crime. He doesn’t know of any Missouri legislators planning to change the more or less ‘hands-off’ approach the state has right now. But he continues to track the progress.
“What’s going on worldwide and industry-wide in terms of the evolution of it and having a form of it that can address issues we would have in Missouri. Making sure there are adequate measures to protect the players and maintain the integrity of those games,” Hahn said.
Hahn says for now, online gambling is illegal in Missouri. For that reason the Attorney General’s office can’t offer any legal recourse if a Missourian has a problem with an online gambling site.