Reports by an online gaming publication that two key Washington, D.C., leaders have agreed to push an Internet poker legalization bill through Congress during the lame duck session were met Wednesday with caution and optimism by both the gambling and investment communities.
Last week, online gaming publication Gambling Compliance reported that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Assistant Minority Leader Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., have agreed on the legislation's framework and would try and pass the bill following November's elections.
Poker publication Bluff Magazine picked up the story and published its own version Saturday during the World Series of Poker at the Rio.
John Pappas, executive director of the advocacy group Poker Players Alliance, told Gambling Compliance it was "my own personal belief that negotiations are likely complete between Sen. Reid and Sen. Kyl."
In an interview with the National Journal on Tuesday, Reid did not elaborate on where negotiations stand, but a Democratic aide said Reid and Kyl are close to a deal and are now trying to solicit GOP support.
"Here's the issue, Sen. Kyl and I've worked very hard. What we need to do is get some Republican support. That hasn't been forthcoming yet," Reid said.
The Democratic aide said Reid is looking to fellow Nevada senator, Republican Dean Heller and Kyl to sell the deal to other Republicans.
Reid spokeswoman Kristen Othman said Wednesday, "We continue to work on the issue."
Kyl's representative could not be reached for comment.
Lobbyists said they didn't expect anything to happen with Internet poker until the elections play out, which could change the leadership of the Senate from Democratic to Republican. While the majority of Nevada's casino industry has expressed support for the legalization of Internet poker, Indian casino leaders and state lotteries are opposed to federal legislation, believing the matter is a state's rights issue.
Union Gaming Group Managing Director Bill Lerner told investors Wednesday that it was too early to raise hopes that an Internet poker bill would survive congressional scrutiny. Any agreement, he said, lacks key Republican support.
"While federal approval remains in a state of flux, online approval at the state level is advancing," Lerner said. "Notably, Delaware will likely be the first state to have Internet wagering up and running."
Nevada adopted regulations allowing for real-money wagering on Internet poker as long as the gambling is conducted within the state's boundaries; however, all the technology needs to be certified before Web poker can happen.
The Nevada Gaming Control Board is investigating some three dozen casino operators and gaming equipment providers that are seeking approval for interactive gaming within the state.
Lerner said Las Vegas Sands Chief Executive Officer Sheldon Adelson continues to pose the biggest obstacle for federal legalization of online gaming.
Adelson has concerns that Internet poker would lack sufficient regulation and that any safeguards wouldn't keep minors from gambling. Also, Lerner said Adelson's visibility as a key contributor to the Republican Party gives him influence with key party members including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.
Lerner said federal legalization would help casino operators with a strong presence, including Caesars Entertainment Corp., which owns the World Series of Poker. Deals between MGM Resorts International and Boyd Gaming Corp. with European online gaming giant Bwin.Party are also in place.
"We think operators with well-known brands would stand to benefit the most," Lerner said.