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The chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee unveiled a draft bill that would allow Native American tribes to operate online poker games alone or with non-Indian partners.
Online gaming licenses would be issued by the Department of Commerce and not subject to taxation or to state compacts for brick and mortar casinos. Once licensed, tribes would be able to accept wagers from players anywhere in the United States. When it comes to online gambling, Congress "must enable tribes to participate fully should any legislation be considered so tribes are on equal footing with their counterparts in the commercial gaming industry," Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, said.
The tribes' push could be late in the game. Reid, the Senate majority leader from Nevada, reportedly has reached an agreement with Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., on a gaming bill framework and is looking for speedy passage. Capitol Hill and lobbying sources said Reid found little support for attaching the bill to pending legislation regarding computer security standards and ditched the idea.
"I'll put it on something," Reid said. "If we get some Republicans, we can do it a lot of different ways."
To date, only Kyl and Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., have been publicly linked to the measure, which would need at least 10 Republican votes to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to pass the Senate.
A Reid-Kyl online gambling bill remains to be fleshed out and has not been made public. One provision would alter the federal Wire Act because of December's Justice Department opinion that it doesn't ban all online gambling.
The opinion has triggered a rush by cash-starved states to consider legalizing Internet poker and lotteries, to the chagrin of casino operators and Indian tribes that prefer federal regulation.
At least 17 states, including Nevada, are pondering some form of online gaming.
While it would allow for online poker under a federal system, the Reid-Kyl bill is expected to toughen the law on other forms of Internet gambling even as states look to cash in on them. That could complicate efforts to build a coalition.
"If we do nothing on this, it is an absolute free-for-all on the Internet for any type of gambling at any time," Heller told reporters last week. "What we want to do is tighten those rules."
At the same time, he said, there would be a carve-out to legalize online poker, a multibillion dollar revenue stream coveted by most Las Vegas casinos.
According to published reports, a Reid aide at a conference in Washington this week told members of the National Indian Gaming Association that Reid's bill would ensure Native Americans have access to the online poker market.
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