An estimated 150,000 Iowans play online poker today through overseas sites unlicensed and unregulated at either the state or federal level.

Not only do we fear foreign-based Internet gambling with no domestic controls puts Iowans at risk of fraud, but it produces no financial benefit for Iowa.

Because we believe it’s in the interest of our state to both manage and derive financial advantage from a popular activity in which many of its residents already take part, we support a bill under consideration in the Legislature which seeks to legalize Internet poker in Iowa. At this point, neither the Senate nor the House has voted on the bill.

The proposed legislation would give the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission authority to license and regulate an Internet poker “hub” operator and affiliates. Licenses for affiliates would be granted only to current gambling operations in the state - casinos, for example.

Compared to the overseas sites, a state-controlled system would better serve the integrity of Iowa, better protect Iowans from unscrupulous behavior and provide the state with valuable revenue, in our view. The hub operator would pay $3 million up front with an annual renewal fee of $250,000. Affiliates also would be charged $250,000 for an annual license. In addition to money from license fees, proponents believe Internet poker would generate some $30 million in revenue for the state each year.

In recent years, additional states and the federal government have discussed proposals for regulation of Internet gambling. In other words, it appears the day is coming when legal online gambling will arrive in America. This bill puts Iowa ahead of the curve.

One criticism we have of the bill is a provision to eliminate required county referendums on renewal of gaming licenses every 10 years. Because these referendums serve an important purpose in terms of keeping the gambling industry honest and accountable to the public, they should remain in place and the provision to do away with them should be removed from the bill.

As for online poker itself, we do not oppose providing gaming enthusiasts in Iowa an additional choice within what we view as a well-run state gambling industry overall.

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