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Iowans Would Be Safer With State-Run Online Poker, Lawmaker Says

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- The Iowa Lottery has no plans to get into online gaming this year, but at least one lawmaker thinks it might be in Iowans' best interest to offer online poker.

Lottery Director Terry Rich reminded lawmakers Jan. 22 that state code allows the Lottery to offer online games. However, he has no plans to "put the full accelerator on" to pursue online gaming this year.

"Internet gaming is booming," he said, noting several states offer or are considering Internet games. A study for the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission estimate the state could reap $3 million to $13 million a year from online poker. It's been estimated as many as 150,000 Iowans play online poker. A lottery official told the committee many Iowans who call 1-800-Bets Off, a gambling help line, identify online poker as their primary form of gambling.

For now, Rich said, the Lottery is in "research and development," and he is monitoring what other states and the federal government are doing.

Sen. Brian Schoenjahn, D-Arlington, however, thinks state-run online poker would provide Iowans a level of security not available on Internet gaming sites.

"My fear is that it's like the Target credit card scam, except there are no protections," he said. "If people are going to do it anyway, maybe Iowa ought to take a piece of the pie and regulate it."

That idea has been floated before. In 2012, a bill to allow intrastate online poker as well as give Iowa an opportunity to join interstate compacts to regulate online gaming passed the Senate 29-20. It went nowhere in the House.

Last year, a similar bill failed to win committee approval in the Senate.

Senate State Government Committee Chairman Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls, agrees with Schoenjahn that Iowans risk being taken by "bad actors" in the online poker business. However, he doubts the Legislature will take action this year unless there is bipartisan support for online gaming legislation.

So far, none have been introduced.

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