Gambling industry leader voices concerns about gambling bills

LAS VEGAS (AP) – While most gambling industry issues were shelved after Sept. 11 when Congress turned its focus to homeland security and the battered economy, an industry lobbyist said Internet gambling hasn’t moved far from the front burner.

Frank Fahrenkopf, president of the Washington, D.C.-based American Gaming Association, said Tuesday that anti-Internet gambling legislation survived the swirl of terrorism and anthrax.

In his address on the state of the gambling industry to the 18th annual Gov.’s Conference on Travel and Tourism, Fahrenkopf said the gaming association’s position has been to oppose Internet gambling.

The organization doesn’t believe technology exists to allow sufficient regulatory and law enforcement oversight.

“But that doesn’t mean we’ll support any bill that bans Internet gambling,” he said in reference to new anti-Internet gambling legislation sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.

Fahrenkopf said the bill raises questions concerning common pool wagering and the association thinks it would give the horse racing industry a competitive advantage in the use of the Internet.

“We have serious concerns about this bill,” he said.

Lawmakers have been trying to ban Internet gambling since 1996.

Nevada is working on regulations that would let it become the first state to allow Internet gambling and capture some of the estimated $2.2 billion wagered worldwide over the Internet in 2000. That figure is expected to exceed $6 billion in 2003, according to Christiansen Capital Advisors, which studies the industry.

Gaming association board members were expected to discuss Internet gambling at their year-end meeting Tuesday in Las Vegas, but a vote was not expected, Fahrenkopf said.

“I’m sure we will still oppose it,” he said.

Action is also expected to continue into next year on a bill sponsored by Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa, that would ban the use of credit cards for Internet gambling.

A congressional proposal to ban betting on college sports is the biggest threat to Nevada’s economy, said Fahrenkopf, who added that the most recent significant legislative achievement for the industry was the near defeat of the proposal in the Senate Commerce Committee that voted 10-10, he said.

“If another member of the committee hadn’t been tied up in a meeting with Secretary (of State) Colin Powell, I might have been up here saying the battle was over,” he said.

“But the bottom line is that it was still approved in committee, and it’s therefore still a threat to our state’s economy.”

State regulators say about $2.5 billion a year is bet on all sports, college and professional, in Nevada’s sports books.

Fahrenkopf said Sen. Harry Reid’s position as assistant majority leader could make it more difficult for proponents of the NCCA betting ban proposal to schedule debate on the bill.

“But don’t assume it’s going to go away,” he said.

The NCAA has hired two new lobbyists to promote the bill that would outlaw wagering on college, high school and Olympic sports. It says gambling pressures young athletes to influence the outcome of games.

Nevada allows wagering on professional and college sports but not on high school and Olympic Games. No other state allows wagering on college sports.

More than 1,000 delegates convened Monday at the Rio hotel-casino for the three-day conference to discuss issues confronting the tourism industry, including traveler security, Indian gambling, recreation on public lands and the state of the economy, spokeswoman Chris Chrystal said.

The association has been working to find ways to help the hospitality industry through the proposed economic stimulus package, Fahrenkopf added.

Among the provisions being pursued are an increase in the tax deductibility of business meals from 50 percent to 100 percent and some form of acceleration in depreciation for equipment, such as slot machines, purchased in the next two years.

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