Iowa House Not Likely to Ante Up for Online Poker

By James Lynch, Reporter

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By Ellen Kurt

DES MOINES, Iowa – It’s not a gambling bill. It’s a consumer protection bill, Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls, insisted as he introduced legislation to legalize online poker in Iowa.

And it’s not about bumping up state gaming revenue -- estimated to be as much as $30 million a year, he added at a subcommittee meeting on Senate Study Bill 1068, which is the same as one approved by the Senate a year ago.

“We don’t need it,” Danielson said about revenue. “We have the highest surplus in highest history.”

Danielson, the chairman of the State Government Committee, said Iowans are in “legal limbo” because the federal government has not regulated online gaming. He believes SSB 1068 is narrowly crafted. It would allow the 21 casinos in Iowa to operate online poker and no other forms of gambling.

Danielson may have a hard time finding a willing partner in the Iowa House.

House State Government Committee Chairman Guy Vander Linden, R-Oskaloosa, has practical questions.

“If I’m playing poker on a computer, how do I know the other three guys aren’t talking to each other on cellphones?” he said.

Still, if the bill comes over from the Senate he’ll consider it.

“We’ll take a look at it,” Vander Linden said. “It might be a short look.”

The industry doesn’t share Vander Linden’s concerns and, for the most part, support SSB 1068.

“We don’t think of it as an expansion of gambling. It’s what’s already being done in the casinos in the poker rooms,” Wes Ehrecke of the Iowa Gaming Association said. SSB 1068 would fill a regulatory void, he said, noting that thousands of Iowans gamble on social media sites without any regulation.

For the Iowa Catholic Conference, the main objection is not gaming itself, “but the expansion and the social costs of that expansion,” Tom Chapman, lobbyist, said.

A recent Iowa Poll showing 73 percent of Iowans oppose online gambling suggests to Chapman that Iowans are comfortable with casino gambling.

“But there’s still a lot of concern about making that quantum leap from those 21 casinos to every household in the state,” he said.

Sen. Randy Feenstra, R-Hull, shared that concerns. For example, he said, casinos have rules about allowing inebriated customers to play. There would not be similar rules in a private home.

“It goes down the path of allowing a lot more societal problems,” Feenstra said. “It should not be government’s arena to approve the degradation of our society.”

Danielson said there always will be moral objections about gambling.

“There will be some who can never get to ‘yes,’” he said.

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