Online Poker is Dead, Iowa House Speaker Says

By James Lynch, Reporter

DES MOINES, Iowa - Online poker enthusiasts appear to have run out of luck.

The Iowa House doesn't plan to take up Senate File 2257, which the Senate approved 29-20 earlier this week to legalize online poker and bring it under state regulation.

"We really didn't expect it to come over from the Senate," House State Government Chairman Peter Cownie, R-West Des Moines, said March 15.

The Senate plan to allow competing hub operators to partner with state-licensed casinos under the control of the state Racing and Gaming Commission to operate online sites for registered players ages 21 and older within Iowa subject to the state's current gaming fee structure wasn't introduced in the House until Thursday morning. That was too late for committee action, Cownie said.

"There are deadlines and this really was a victim of the funnel," he said referring to the Legislature's self-imposed March 16 is deadline for non-money measures to clear one legislative chamber and a committee of the other to remain eligible for consideration this session.

Deadline or not, it's too soon to declare the issue dead for the session. Cownie he has been approached by people interested in finding a way to keep the bill alive.

There are a variety of ways to do that, but Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, says he has no plans to deal the issue another hand by making it a leadership bill.

Another possibility would be for the chairs of the House Ways and Means and Appropriations committees to start their own online poker bill. Paulsen thought it unlikely either Reps. Tom Sands, R-Wapello, or Scott Raecker, R-Urbandale, respectively, would choose to do that.

Neither Paulsen nor House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Des Moines, see the issue as partisan.

"I think there was some bipartisan support for it and there was some bipartisan opposition," McCarthy said.

Overall, Paulsen said, there has been a "general lack of interest" in online poker among House members.

"What are we in? Week 10?" Paulsen said March 15. "I don't know if I've had three members mention this subject to me ... until this week when the big hub-bub was."

That was when the Senate spent less than 10 minutes on the floor debating the bill.

"I don't know if it was that the gaming lobby was working hard over there or there was a particular champion in the Senate, but there seemed to be quite a bit of discussion in the Senate on it," Paulsen said.

Proponents and state officials said regulating online poker that currently is going on in Iowa via illegal offshore wagering operations would provide protection for Iowa players, curb underage participation, and generate adjusted gross receipts estimated between $30 million and $60 million for state-licensed casinos and between $2.9 million to $13.2 million in yearly tax revenue for the state. Current gaming licensees would be able to apply individually or jointly for an internet wagering license for poker, contract with a hub operator, allow players to establish an account, deposit money in it and use the balance for online wagering that would be limited to Internet poker.
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