Iowa lawmakers should back proposal to expand poker tournaments


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Poker enthusiasts and the state’s coffers would both win if a poker proposal makes its way through the Iowa Legislature. The plan would allow casinos to host poker tournaments in areas outside the gaming floor.

We urge Iowa legislators to pass this salutary proposal.

In fiscal 2009, the state received more than $300 million in revenue from the gaming industry, according to the Legislative Services Agency. The poker proposal, pushed by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Des Moines, would undoubtedly add millions of dollars to that total. It’s money that the state cannot afford to let slip away.

McCarthy was unavailable for comment on Tuesday.

Under current regulations, gambling sites are strictly controlled, and all betting activity is clearly confined to the gaming areas. This includes poker games, which can only take place in the small-ish rooms reserved specifically for the game. McCarthy’s proposal, as he outlined last month on “Iowa Press,” would allow large poker tournaments to spill into other casino-owned properties outside of the gaming floor, such as ballrooms and dining areas.

These new poker parlors would be subject to the same stringent regulations and restrictions as the gaming floor and would funnel tax dollars into the state’s coffers.

The main concern is that the measure would allow further access to gambling, potentially increasing the risk of gambling addiction and the debt and marriage issues generally associated with such addictions.

“Gambling is addictive because the anticipation of waiting for the result after placing a bet excites pleasure centers in the brain,” UI sociology Professor Michael Lovaglia said. “It is placing the bet and waiting for the result, not winning or losing that drives addictive gambling.” A certain percentage of people will become addicted to gambling if given the right amount of exposure, he said.

The underlying problem with such an objection, however, is that access to gambling is already widely available. Simply increasing the size of the tournaments would not, in and of itself, catalyze increased addiction.

There are already plenty of opportunities to gamble for would-be addicts, and passing legislation allowing casinos to use other parts of their property for controlled tournaments would have little or no effect on the prevalence of gambling addiction.

What it would do, however, is generate money for both the casinos and the state. With the looming Feb. 8 deadline for a 19-member council to decide which UI graduate programs will get the ax and ubiquitous dire reports, the state needs all the help it can get.

With such a minimal effect on the community and the action’s ability to replenish the state’s waning revenue stream, the decision seems to be clear cut.

The Legislature should aggressively pursue this opportunity, casting aside the mostly perfunctory objections. The money the state would gain from the poker plan would far outweigh any potential downsides.

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