Jeff Simpson on why it's unlikely the online gambling ban will be reversed

Las Vegas Sun

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- American Gaming Association President Frank Fahrenkopf told me last week that if online poker players are confident they can persuade Congress to pass a law that would define poker as a game of skill, they're sadly mistaken.

The poker players, online poker rooms and poker publishers hope that the recent changes in congressional leadership will prompt legislators to reverse the impact of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, which caused the leading online poker room to stop taking action from Americans and made funding and withdrawing money from online poker accounts more cumbersome.

A law that defined poker as a game of skill would exempt online poker from the UIGEA.

The climate on Capitol Hill is not favorable for any pro-Internet gambling legislation, he said.

"They don't have a chance in hell," Fahrenkopf said.

The AGA supports a congressionally mandated study of online gambling to see whether technology exists to make sure customers are playing from jurisdictions that allow betting, keep underage bettors from wagering and limit problem gambling. If the study determines that the technology exists to provide those safeguards, then a law could be passed allowing individual states to decide whether to offer online gambling.

Fahrenkopf acknowledged that even if those two hurdles are cleared, it is unlikely that states would set tax rates low enough to compete with the barely regulated and taxed casino and poker sites that now proliferate.

Before he left for Macau last week, I spoke to Steve Wynn by phone as he took a break from skiing in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Wynn said he's had a couple of feelers from companies that would like to combine operations with Wynn Resorts to compete more effectively with the industry's biggest operators, but he told them he's not interested in diluting the strength of the Wynn brand.

"I won't say never, but it would have to be an incredible deal," Wynn said.

Wynn said he expects gaming regulators in Nevada and New Jersey to OK competitor MGM Mirage's Macau casino partnership with Pansy Ho, daughter of controversial casino owner Stanley Ho.

"I expect MGM to open the MGM Grand in Macau," Wynn said. "There will be some finger-pointing and finger-wagging here, but MGM's partnership with Pansy will be allowed."

Wynn said he was returning to Las Vegas from Macau before the Chinese New Year because he wants to attend a Friday event being held in conjunction with the NBA All-Star Game, the Touching a Life Gala, which is run by a group of NBA wives.

His wife, Elaine Wynn; Magic Johnson's wife, Cookie Johnson; and NBA player Dikembe Mutombo are being honored at the event for their community-service efforts, with proceeds to benefit the Greater Las Vegas After-School All-Stars and Communities in Schools of Southern Nevada.

Elaine Wynn told me the NBA All-Star Game and its associated events are signals to the rest of the world that Las Vegas has arrived.

"I think we've earned the credibility before this, but fabulous events like this allow people to come and sample the menu of diverse attractions in Las Vegas," she said.

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