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Steve Tetreault

Lottery chiefs to lobby against online poker bill next week

29 November 2012

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Lottery directors from seven states are planning a trip to Washington next week to speak out against a bill that would legalize Internet poker while restricting the online expansion of lotteries and other games.

Officials from Kentucky, Idaho, Washington state, Missouri, New Hampshire, Georgia and Iowa have signed up for the lobbying fly-in, said David Gale, executive director of the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries.

The target is a bill being prepared by Sens. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., that would legalize and set up a framework to license and regulate online poker games.

At the same time, it would restrict most other forms of online gambling, including efforts by states to expand their lotteries into online offerings that might more closely resemble keno or slot machines.

"The purpose of the trip is to just get our message out that gaming is a right that belongs to each individual state and it's up to each state to determine not just the games they offer but the manner in which they are offered to their players," Gale said Wednesday.

Reid spokeswoman Kristen Orthman said the bill that has drawn the ire of state officials, including a number of governors and state legislators, "is just a draft. We continue to work with all stakeholders, including states, to address concerns."

The stepped-up lobbying comes as lawmakers head into the home stretch of the 2011-12 Congress, with roughly three weeks remaining in a lame-duck session.

Reid, the Senate majority leader, is said to be looking for opportunities to pass the gaming bill. Supporters say regulation at the federal level would offer protections for consumers, plus safeguards for problem gamblers and underage players.

Critics say it would deprive states the chance to tap into the online gaming markets for needed revenue.

Among winners and losers, Nevada casinos that already are making forays into online poker would profit from the bill. Vendors positioning for more business from state lotteries would be hurt by it.

Gale said the number of lottery executives on the fly-in might vary depending on whether a winner is drawn by then for the record $550 million jackpot in Powerball that is offered in 42 states and Washington, D.C.

A drawing was scheduled for Wednesday evening. If no winner is found, the next drawing would be Saturday.

"Even if the jackpot rolls over, we will have a presence there [in Washington]," Gale said. "We feel it very important that our message is heard about this being a right for the states to determine, and not Reid or Kyl or anybody else."