After not considering the legislation in their previous congressional cycle, the Iowa General Assembly could once again take a look at passing legislation that would make the Hawkeye State another player in the online poker industry.
According to reports from O. Kay Henderson of RadioIowa, an Iowa Senate subcommittee has passed the same identical bill that was put before the full Senate in 2012. The bill would allow the state’s 21 casinos to operate online poker sites for Iowans, something that Senator Jeff Danielson (D-Cedar Falls) said to Henderson was critical to protecting citizens against off-shore sites that fall outside the jurisdiction of U. S. authorities. “Both the technology and the cultural acceptance has gotten ahead of our ability to have a decent policy for what to do about it,” Danielson commented to Henderson.
The bill prevents anyone who isn’t a “registered casino customer” from participating in online games, going as far as using GPS locating software to ensure that the computer is physically located in the state. As the legal age for gaming in Iowa is 21, those customers that would use an Iowa online poker site would be of legal age under the new online poker legislation. But that still doesn’t sit well with some who are priming for a fight against the legislation.
“How are we going to stop a 21-year old from giving his password to his 14-year old brother or sister to play the game?” Senator Randy Feenstra (R-Hull) questioned during the subcommittee hearing. The executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference, Tom Chapman, was “troubled” by expanding gaming outside of the casinos in the state, saying, “Making that quantum leap from those 21 locations to every household in the state and beyond…that’s a big difference. I don’t think we should underestimate what that might mean.”
Danielson responded by saying, “To do nothing by default, I believe, is both wrong morally because it puts Iowans in a position they shouldn’t be in and also wrong when you look at the economics.”
The idea was broached by a lobbyist testifying at the subcommittee meeting that if Iowa was looking to pass online poker legislation to generate revenue, then they should take on the National Football League (NFL) and the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) and try to legalize sports betting on a “state’s rights” issue. “This bill isn’t about revenue,” Danielson replied. “This bill is about protecting Iowa consumers who are in legal limbo now because of inaction by the feds.” (Finances brought out last year in committee hearings estimated Iowa would earn between $3 and $13 million in taxation revenues from online poker.)
Once Senator Danielson said that, Senator Feenstra found an area to strike back. “I understand you’re saying it isn’t about revenue,” he began, “but it will generate a tremendous amount of revenue. It begs to question, though, is it like the red light camera? People say “it’s all about safety”…it generates a lot of revenue.” (The devices were once viewed as key to public safety by police departments across the United States in the late 1990s/early 2000s, but have fallen out of usage because of their operating costs.)
The bill in Iowa last year was passed out of the Senate by a 29-20 margin, but it didn’t even earn a hearing in the Iowa House of Representatives. House leadership claimed that the bill didn’t have enough time for review in the proper committees in the House before a hearing before the full House, thus the House leadership never brought up the issue. A similar situation exists this year for any potential online poker legislation in Iowa, with a Senate that will pass the bill, a House that doesn’t consider it a “priority issue” and Republican Governor Terry Branstad, who has commented he is open to considering the issue.
The dizzying pace of state-by-state online poker (or full casino gaming) legislation seems to change almost hourly. After Nevada and New Jersey passed legislation earlier this month that would allow for interstate online gaming and/or poker (Delaware is the third state with online casino gaming), it seems this has spurred other states into action. While Iowa is reigniting debate on the issue, the “crown jewel” of a potential online poker/casino world, California, has also stepped up potential gaming legislation in the General Assembly in Sacramento. As more states begin to enact their own laws on the issue, perhaps it could push the federal government into the regulatory game for online casinos and poker.