The Fight: Wynn Teams with PokerStars, Caesars/888 Relationship Approved, and More

Today in The Fight, Nevada was a hotbed of activity on Thursday with several developments affecting online poker and gaming that could reverberate through the US.

Thursday evening came the development that Wynn Resorts, long considered an opponent of online gaming, had entered into a strategic partnership with PokerStars. Wynn and PokerStars will work together to create federal legislation that will conclusively define what is considered illegal Internet gambling, provide tools for law enforcement authorities to help stop illegal gambling and protect customers by creating a regulatory environment for online poker providers. The partnership would also set up a method for the assessment and collection of taxes. Once federal legislation is passed and licenses are provided the companies would run the US-only poker site.

Stephen Wynn, Chairman and CEO of Wynn Resorts said in a statement announcing the partnership: “After much study, we are convinced that the lack of regulation of internet gaming within the US must change. We must recognize that this activity is occurring and that law enforcement does not have the tools to stop it. As a company that has safely conducted gaming in the US for more than 40 years, we believe that the same can be done for poker on the internet. Additionally, it is time that the thousands of jobs created by this business and the potentially significant tax dollars come home to the US.”

Mark Scheinberg, Chairman and Founder of PokerStars remarked: “We have long supported the enactment of local regulatory regimes that protect consumers and provide valuable tax revenues and jobs. PokerStars is closely regulated in many European countries and it has been endorsing the adoption of the same approach in the United States for years, with this alliance representing a critical step in that direction. We are excited about the opportunities that partnering with Wynn, a pioneering leader and innovator in gaming, will present for PokerStars in the United States. These opportunities include the rapid ramp-up in hiring of a large number of professionals in this growing global technology and services sector that will benefit from US talent to keep up with global demand.”

This developing story could lead to other Las Vegas casinos teaming up with poker sites as chances grow once again of possible federal legislation.

Thursday afternoon after a two-hour hearing, the Nevada Gaming Commission voted unanimously to approve the relationship between Caesars Interactive and Dragonfish Enterprises, a subsidiary of 888 Holdings under the state’s Foreign Gaming Act, the first foreign/domestic business relationship of gaming companies agreed to by the commission. 888/Dragonfish provides Caesars Interactive with software, security and equipment to operate gaming sites in the UK, including and 888 accepted wagers from US customers before pulling out of the country after the UIGEA was passed in 2006.

During the hearing representatives from both companies detailed the steps taken to establish the relationship, including an internal investigation of 888 by Caesars’ regulatory and legal compliance departments. During the hearing, 888 CEO Gigi Levy told the commission of the steps taken to prevent underage gambling as well as the hundreds of checks and balances used to remove problem gamblers.

Thursday’s activity kicked off as the Nevada Assembly Judiciary Committee held a hearing on AB 258, a bill supported by PokerStars to legalize online poker in the state. The hearing featured testimony from several supporting the measure, including Team PokerStars Pro Vanessa Rousso, touting the financial benefits that the state would receive regarding additional revenue and high-tech jobs, where the unemployment rate is currently at 13.6%. Opponents at the hearing were limited to a representative of the Nevada Resort Association, preferring federal online gaming legislation.

Elsewhere, Hawaii one of only two states that do not allow gambling, became the latest to consider an intrastate poker bill this week. SB 755 started as a measure to help parents buy school supplies for their children. This week, that language was gutted and became a bill that would create an intrastate poker site that would allow hold’em and Omaha tournaments. The bill also would allow for the creation of live tournaments on the islands in an effort to promote tourism. Two licenses would be authorized for a fee of $100 million and 20% of wagers. Individuals familiar with the bill believe the fees and taxes will be amended downwards as it moves through the legislation process. SB 755 passed two state House committees, with the House Financial Committee needed to approve the bill before moving to the state Senate for further consideration.

Meanwhile, Iowa’s progress towards voting on an intrastate poker bill appears to have been halted as a vote on SF458 passed a Senate subcommittee, then was pulled from a vote in the Ways and Means Committee for further tweaking. Insiders believe SF458 will soon be stripped of the intrastate poker provisions, especially after a poll conducted by the Des Moines Register found 73% of state residents were against online gambling.

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Kevin Mathers

Widely known by his twitter handle "Kevmath", many consider Kevin a go-to source for news and information in the poker community. Kevin finished on the bubble in the 2014 edition of the BLUFF Power 20.
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