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Nevada Legislator Introduces Interactive Gaming Bill

7 March 2001

Merle Berman, a Republican member of the Nevada Assembly, introduced a bill today that would legalize interactive gaming operations by "a resort hotel that holds a nonrestricted license" – that is, casinos that are already licensed to offer traditional gaming in the state. The sparse language of the bill leaves the details of licensing online gaming, and even the decision to proceed with such licensing, up to Nevada regulators.
Credit: Las Vegas Review-Journal
Merle Berman, Las Vegas assemblywoman.

Thirty-seven of the Assembly's 42 members signed on in support of Berman's bill. Five state senators are listed as joint sponsors. The Nevada Senate has 21 members.

A bill was introduced in the New Jersey Assembly in January that would permit Atlantic City casinos to offer Internet gaming. But it's not expected to pass.

Berman, whose district includes part of Las Vegas, told RGT Online today that she's not aware of any Nevada legislators who oppose her bill. She announced in December that she would draft this legislation, and has apparently spent time since then rounding up support from her colleagues.

If the bill, AB 296, passes the Nevada Assembly and Senate, it would have to be signed by Gov. Kenny Guinn to become law. Berman doesn't know if the governor would do so. She said he "is overwhelmed with so many other issues now."

The bill was assigned to the Assembly's Judiciary Committee, which will hold hearings. The current session of the Nevada Legislature must end by June 4. The Legislature only meets once every two years.

Asked about support from the casino industry, Berman said: "I think the industry is holding its breath right now, waiting for March Madness to pass and to see where they fit as a whole with the NCAA bill." Nevada's gaming industry and its politicians are fighting an effort by the NCAA to get Congress to ban betting on college sports. The only U.S. state that permits wagering on college games is Nevada.

But Berman noted that three of Nevada's largest employers – Park Place, MGM Mirage and Harrah's – already offer "games-for-fun" on their Web sites. She said the Venetian is also considering a "games-for-fun" Web site. "I think that speaks for itself," she said.

Berman said legislation in Congress that was introduced last month by Iowa Rep. James Leach could affect the prospects for her bill. The Leach bill would prevent credit cards or other financial instruments issued by U.S. banks from being used for "unlawful Internet gambling."

Differences Between Nevada and New Jersey Bills

While the New Jersey bill would permit New Jersey residents to place online bets with Atlantic City casinos, Berman's bill would let Nevada casinos accept online bets from people outside of Nevada, as long as they were in jurisdictions where it is legal to do so.

There are other differences as well. The New Jersey legislation goes into considerable detail; stating, for example, that the gaming software of an Internet casino must be tested by New Jersey regulators, and that casino Web sites must help those with gambling problems by letting players impose their own loss limits or betting caps or even prevent themselves from betting for a certain period of time.

Berman's bill leaves such detail up to the Nevada Gaming Commission and the Nevada Gaming Control Board. It would amend state law to say that "the commission may, with the advice and assistance of the board, adopt regulations governing the licensing and operation of interactive gaming."

But there are important conditions that must be met before Nevada regulators could proceed. The bill also states:

"The commission may not adopt regulations governing the licensing and operation of interactive gaming until the commission first determines that:

"(a) Interactive gaming can be operated in compliance with all applicable laws;

"(b) Interactive gaming systems are secure and reliable, and provide reasonable assurance that players will be of lawful age and communicating only from jurisdictions where it is lawful to make such communications; and

"(c) Adoption of such regulations is consistent with the public policy of the state to foster the stability and success of gaming."

The regulations also would have to set taxes on interactive gaming at the same rate as taxes on other forms of gaming.

Brian Sandoval, chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission, told RGT Online that he likes the approach that Berman's bill takes.

"Assuming the Legislature approves the bill," Sandoval said, "the board would probably make recommendations to the commission. I think it's appropriate for that because the commission and the board are best equipped to evaluate whether the technology exists to properly regulate Internet gaming.

"I Like the verbiage of the bill in that it gives the commission and the board the opportunity to hold hearings to have those who want to see it go forward to be able to demonstrate that those security procedures are in place.

"It's a good two-step process, where at least the social and policy issues will be determined by the Legislature and then the governance and regulatory issues will be handled by the board and the commission, which is where I think it belongs. It allows us to get away from these other issues and allows us to do what we do best."

Bill Bible, chairman of the Nevada Resort Association – the state's main trade group for the casino-hotel industry -- could not be reached for comment.

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