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Another interesting read courtesy of Marco Valerio’s attendance at the 2013 National Conference of Legislators from Gaming States (Marco interviewed California State Senator Roderick Wright earlier in the week, read that here).
This time Marco sat down with Iowa Gaming Association president Wes Ehrecke for a talk covering the prospects for online poker legislation in Iowa to the attitude of Iowa’s commercial casino industry with regard to federal vs. state regulation.
Valerio: When it became apparent that online poker in the U.S. was going to be a state-by-state effort, a lot of us started paying attention to individual states, and Iowa has certainly been one of them. Could you tell our readers who you are, and what your work entails?
Ehrecke: I’m Wes Ehrecke. I’m the president and CEO of the Iowa Gaming Association. We’re a trade group representing the 18 state-regulated commercial casinos in Iowa. Not the tribal casinos, not the lottery, but the 18 commercial casinos, in Iowa.
How closely have you and your members been following the most recent online poker developments in your state?
We’ve certainly been involved and following it very closely. We know the table games industry, we created it in Iowa. How to regulate it, structure it, the whole tech integrity and standards that the people who come in to play can appreciate. And so to have something similar established online, to have online poker on casino portals, and have it be regulated through the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission with the highest standards of game integrity, is something that we are advocating.
A couple of my members would prefer to see something happen at the federal level, because they might be in multiple, multi-jurisdictional areas. If something happens at the federal level so be it, but in the absence of that, we see that this would be an opportunity to really regulate and structure something that is now run by companies operating from outside of the U.S.
A commonly used example is, say you got a straight flush and won $5,000 dollars but you didn’t get paid. Who do you go complain to, who do you go talk to? That [problem] would not happen if regulation was established, through the casino portals. Keeping underage people from playing, the geo-fencing capabilities, the licensing of all the hub operators… these are all things that would be subject to the same criteria that would give everyone a great deal of confidence that they’re playing in a regulated, structured way, and that’s important.
Here in Nevada, it’s certainly looking like the powerful casino industry will be in command of online poker. Will the same be true for the commercial casino industry in Iowa, if online poker ever goes live there?
Certainly our commercial casinos would want to have this established so that they can choose to use their web portals, but the criteria will be set by the Racing and Gaming Commission as to who the hub operators would be and who could get licensed. We anticipate there will be more than one hub operator. Some might want to align with others, so there might be two or three or four to begin with.
We would need some kind of liquidity, though. We’re not that huge of a state, and I expect there would be some kind of mechanism set up for reciprocity with other states that have authorized it, so you get this regulatory and structured framework eventually.
When you’re dealing state by state, they may all be a little different, but there might be this migration toward best practices and uniformity if you will, that would give assurance to the people playing from Nevada, or New Jersey, or California, or any of these other places that might ultimately adopt something.
How confident are you that interstate compacts can eventually happen and be successful?
I think there are estimated to be 150,000 players who play online poker in the United States, through these sites based out of Antigua and elsewhere, right now. I haven’t verified that number, but you know, I think the question is, if you were to legalize online poker, in Iowa or any other state, how many of these players would migrate over to these new sites? We assume that there’s a fair amount who would, along with those others who might start playing online in a regulated environment but aren’t right now.
You know, the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission was the first in the country, after Nevada and New Jersey, to legalize gaming in the United States [in 1989]. They are highly regarded for their ability to set up gaming standards.
Right now, it’s an educational process at the legislative level. We passed [the online poker bill] in the [state] Senate last year, but the House did not go for it. A lot of that is a little bit political as well, because it was an election year and there were a lot of other things to do. But it’s a new general assembly, there are a lot of newly elected faces and the educational process will start again, but we really don’t see it as an expansion of gaming.
It’s really meant to take something that’s already out there, that exists in an unregulated, unstructured environment and make it into something that gives people the confidence and the assurance that if they were to play, it would be done well.
Will [state Senator Jeff] Danielson’s online poker bill be reintroduced?
It will be. It will be introduced probably in the Senate to begin with. And then the process begins about education with newly elected officials to see where people are coming from.
Other things that are totally unrelated to Internet poker but relate to gaming could be introduced and added on to the bill, or not. It’s all part of the political process that will unfold here in the next couple of months.
And when is all of this tentatively scheduled to take place?
Session begins Monday, January 14 . It will probably run till about late April, early May.
Thank you for this interview, Mr. Ehrecke. Final question: what did you think of NCLGS this month?
I think this is always a worthwhile conference that brings a high-level group of panelists and speakers on so many topics, not just online gaming, but sports wagering, lotteries, etc. You know, there’s so much converging right now, on so many fronts, and to be able to get a new baseline of what is happening and all the updates… I enjoyed it a great deal.