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New Internet Poker Bill in Iowa

After a lot of talk, Iowa lawmakers have finally started taking action: A new bill in that state aims to regulate and fully legalize online poker.

Drafted just before the weekend, the new bill “would be ‘a win-win’ for Iowans who gamble and for those who don’t, with a mix of gambling policy that has merit,” according to state Senator Jeff Danielson, via Jennifer Jacobs at the Des Moines Register.

The bill is also designed to settle a long-standing conflict over divvying up the purse money between Iowa’s horse breeders and the state’s Altoona racetrack; it would also “let casinos off the hook for referendum votes,” Jacobs adds.

But, like similar measures in California, Florida, and New Jersey, the bill is anything but a longshot. It’s already controversial, with anti-gambling advocates preparing to oppose the measure. 

As the bill stands today, this is how online poker would work in Iowa: “Approved gamblers would put cash into special accounts, set maximum limits for bets and length of play, then log on to a password-protected website to play cards at a virtual poker table,” Jacobs writes.

And how to those gamblers get approved? Iowans would be required to register for an account at a state-regulated casino, either in person, by mail, by telephone, or by the Internet. Then, “they would play only with fellow Iowans, and would have a place to lodge a complaint if there’s a problem.”

The state’s capital has a fair share of gaming lobbyists pushing the bill — perhaps more than lawmakers.

“What is driving this is the recognition that you have an existing activity that’s already taking place in an unregulated environment, and the revenue is all flowing overseas,” said Kirk Uhler, vice president of government affairs for U.S. Digital Gaming, the California company that would attempt to win the contract for Iowa’s online poker operator, should the bill be approved.

Uhler adss that that 150,000 Iowans play online poker on offshore sites, “depriving the state of $30 million to $35 million in gaming taxes each year.”

The governor has yet to take a position, but, based on Internet comments, the voter support seems to be there. Check out some favorable comments at the Eastern Iowan Gazette.