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State legislators would be right to legalize in-state online poker

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | MARCH 05, 2010 7:30 AM

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Right now, thousands of Iowans are breaking the law — they’re participating in illegal online gambling.

But those risk takers might not need to worry much longer. A proposal from a group of state lawmakers would make Iowa the first state in the nation to allow in-state Internet poker.

We support the lawmakers’ plan to regulate online poker, because it would not only feed Iowa’s budget, it would also tame an unregulated, yet popular, form of entertainment.

The plan would allow players to set up a cash-or-debit-card only account at any licensed gaming facility in Iowa, permitting deposits between $50 and $500. Although the plan hasn’t been drafted into a bill, proponents estimate that legalizing online poker would bring the state $11.5 million a year. And that’s money already flowing out of the state and into illegal gambling websites. Because these websites are unlawful in the United States, their domain names are registered out of the country.

Regulating online poker, an immensely popular medium for gambling, would be a bold move for Iowa. It would also illustrate lawmakers’ aptitude for unearthing an untapped monetary resource.

Not only would it limit potential for fraud and underage involvement by forcing participants to physically enter a casino to set up an account or deposit money, but perhaps more importantly, it would bring in some much-needed revenue. The logistics simply make sense.

“These dollars are already going offshore,” Rep. Doug Struyk, R-Council Bluffs, told the Editorial Board.

Still, many find the state’s reliance on gambling to fund a substantial part of the budget troubling. Struyk confirmed casinos brought Iowa $321 million in funds during fiscal 2009. But is Iowa really addicted to gambling?

Struyk said the notion of Iowa being addicted to gambling really refers to the Legislature rather than the people, and he does not think Iowans are addicted to gambling.

Concern regarding online poker legalization and its potential to increase addiction merits discourse.

Still, we question the negative effect it will have on addiction rates. With myriad existing gambling options — and people already gambling online — it’s unlikely legalizing online gambling in the state would cause a spike in addiction.

And if Iowans want to play poker online, let them. The state government would be wrong to inhibit the entertainment choices of adults, as long as officials take preventative measures to eliminate fraud and participation among minors. Struyk said technology is already developed to combat underage participation and criminal activity. The next step, he said, is publishing a study to measure the feasibility of online gambling and its potential to increase addition.

Assuming a bill eventually hits the Legislature, we hope lawmakers will weigh the potential benefits and repercussions of legalizing online poker. Beyond augmenting state revenue, we think Iowa would incur greater benefits than consequences. With Iowa at the forefront, the regulation of Internet gambling could spur similar change in other states — and maybe even federally.


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