Friday, March 25th, 2011

Caesars, Wynn up ante for legalizing Internet gambling

Two Las Vegas-based casino companies Thursday upped the ante in their gambits to get online gambling legalized in the United States.

Nevada regulators Thursday approved a marketing agreement between Caesars Entertainment and 888 Holdings PLC, an Israeli company that offers online poker, sports betting and casino games in Italy, France and the United Kingdom.

The Nevada Gaming Commission authorization marks the first time regulators have explicitly allowed a casino operator to do significant business with a foreign company that offers gambling on the Internet.

The vote came the same day Wynn Resorts announced a partnership with PokerStars, a company that operates online poker games, to work together toward the passage of federal legislation to regulate gambling on the Internet.

Payoff for state, casinos

The two companies, as well as Nevada, are expected to cash in on the eventual U.S. legalization of Internet gambling, as industry lobbyists have sought for years.

Nevada stands to gain millions in tax revenue if it regulates and develops the multibillion-dollar online poker industry, according to a report given Thursday as state lawmakers considered a bill, AB258, which calls for the Nevada Gaming Commission to create rules for Internet poker operators.

Economist Jeremy Aguero estimated the state could collect between $2 and $3.4 million annually if online poker is legalized in Nevada, and up to $65 million if it captured a quarter of the international market.

AB258 would prohibit the commission from denying a license to existing poker sites such as PokerStars, which have been operating in a legal gray area after a federal law effectively banned online gambling in 2006.

States have drafted similar bills after a federal attempt to regulate internet poker died last year.

“It’s absolutely laying the groundwork for when bricks and mortar casinos are able to do what they’re not able to do yet,” Anthony Curtis, publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor industry newsletter, said about Caesars deal.

Nevada Gaming Commissioner Randolph Townsend said, “this is the first of perhaps many relationships that will be developed over time.”

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At stake is a piece of what 888 Holdings described as an $18 billion annual market, according to 2009 figures, a number that would only grow if the current legal environment changes.

“It’s very positive for those who have been lobbying for legalized, regulated gaming online … and ultimately we hope to see some form of regulated online gaming in the United States,” said Mitch Garber, CEO of Caesars Interactive Entertainment, during a break immediately before the Nevada Gaming Commission voted unanimously in favor of the deal.

The contract allows Caesars Entertainment to extend its globally recognized brand, the World Series of Poker, now in its 42nd year, to online players abroad, according to Seth Palansky, Caesars Interactive Entertainment spokesman.

For now, he said, the deal with 888 Holdings will allow Caesars to “learn about the business (of Internet gaming) and make some money along the way.”

Wynn bets on future

Wynn Resorts CEO Steve Wynn said in a statement reported by the Las Vegas Sun, “After much study, we are convinced that the lack of regulation of Internet gaming within the U.S. must change. We must recognize that this activity is occurring and that law enforcement does not have the tools to stop it. As a company that has safely conducted gaming in the U.S. for more than 40 years, we believe that the same can be done for poker on the Internet.”

If federal regulation is secured and licenses are obtained, Wynn Resorts plans to launch, to be based in the U.S., the company said.

Mark Scheinberg, chairman and founder of PokerStars, said his company is closely regulated in many European countries.

“(PokerStars) has been endorsing the adoption of the same approach in the United States for years, with this alliance representing a critical step in that direction,” Scheinberg said in a statement. “We are excited about the opportunities that partnering with Wynn, a pioneering leader and innovator in gaming, will present for PokerStars in the United States.”

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