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Billionaire real estate developer Donald Trump partnered with a New York hedge fund and announced plans to launch a gambling website bearing his famous name once Congress legalizes and regulates the activity.
"Internet gaming makes total sense," Trump said, wanting to keep Americans' gambling dollars within U.S. borders.
Apparently, Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif., missed that directive.
Last Tuesday, Bono Mack, who is chairwoman of a House subcommittee studying the pros and cons of legalizing Internet poker, suggested during a Capitol Hill hearing that Congress should move slowly in analyzing a potentially $3 billion a year industry.
Supporters of Internet poker remain hopeful that a proposal would be considered by the House-Senate "supercommittee" that is tasked with finding ideas to slice the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion. The deadline for a plan is Nov. 23.
Bono Mack's message was not what Trump wanted to hear.
"There is so much money leaving the U.S. and the country is losing potential revenues," Trump told me Monday, the day before Bono Mack put the brakes on an Internet poker bill backed by Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas and Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev.
Trump, the one-time presidential aspirant who gave up his White House dreams for another season as host of "The Celebrity Apprentice," is now a vocal advocate for online gaming.
"Other countries are taking a lot of business away from the U.S.," Trump said.
Union Gaming Group estimated Americans wagered some $3 billion annually on Internet poker before April 15, when federal prosecutors indicted the owners of three online poker websites and shut down the operations.
All told, Union Gaming Group said Internet gaming accounted for $24 billion in revenues last year. The U.S. commercial casino industry had revenues of $34.6 billion in 2010, according to the American Gaming Association.
Trump operates two Atlantic City casinos through Trump Entertainment. He is on a growing list of casino industry executives favoring Internet poker legalization.
They are also willing to pay for it.
Roll Call cited figures supplied by the Center for Responsive Politics showing that the Poker Players Alliance has spent more than $800,000 this year lobbying Congress in favor of Internet poker. The American Gaming Association, the industry's Washington D.C. lobbying arm, has spent $1.2 million.
Association President Frank Fahrenkopf Jr., said regulatory technology would protect U.S. gamblers.
"The subcommittee heard clear evidence that millions of U.S. residents who play online are being put at risk because they are playing illegally with companies that are poorly regulated and, in the vast majority of the cases, outside the reach of U.S. law enforcement." Fahrenkopf said.
In the past, Caesars Entertainment Corp. CEO Gary Loveman was the lone industry voice in favor of Internet poker. At the Global Gaming Expo, MGM Resorts International Chairman Jim Murren said the time has come to legalize the activity.
Last week, Fertitta Interactive, which is owned by the founding family of Station Casinos and former owners of the Golden Nugget, acquired an online gaming software developer.
However, opposition to Internet poker has surfaced.
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley sent a letter to the "supercommittee" co-chairs Oct. 20, asking Congress to take Internet poker off the table. He fears legalization would destroy his state's lottery business.
O'Malley wasn't alone. The North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries, which represents 52 lottery organizations, issued a resolution opposing federal legalization of Internet poker as encroachment on a state's right to regulate its own gambling system.
Kentucky Lottery President Arthur Gleason Jr. told the U.S. Attorney General his state does not plan to sell lottery tickets through the Internet, but wants to save that option.
Meanwhile, California lawmakers passed a resolution asking its large Congressional delegation to preserve the Golden State's right to operate an Internet gambling system within its borders.
Clearly, the lines are being drawn.
Lotteries, commercial casinos and Indian casinos co-exist in several states. Somewhere, a happy medium needs to be found.
If Trump is serious about Internet gaming, maybe getting a bill through Congress could be a task undertaken by his latest group of B-list "Celebrity Apprentice" candidates.
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