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Friday, February 22, 2013

Online Gambling Heats Up

The two big casino states, Nevada and New Jersey, are racing into online gambling as a way of protecting their turf. They will in essence become laboratories for what is and is not feasible in Internet wagering.

Nevada legislators, who previously authorized online poker, hurriedly passed a new bill this week that allows the state to enter into deals with other states to essentially pool their gambling populations. “This is the day we usher Nevada into the next frontier of gaming,” Brian Sandoval, Nevada’s governor, said on Thursday as he signed the bill.

In the year since online poker became a theoretical possibility in Nevada, no company has yet offered it. One problem: It’s too small a market, especially in a state where it is not exactly hard to gamble the old-fashioned way â€" by plunking your body down in a casino or, for that matter, just about anywhee else.

“We don’t have a universe of players,” Pete Ernaut, a Nevada political consultant, told The Las Vegas Review-Journal. “So for us, what we get to offer to a state like California or Texas is that we have the most mature regulatory infrastructure. We have the most mature financial, auditing and collection capabilities, much greater than some of those states, and they have the players.”

Meanwhile, New Jersey is also barreling ahead. Chris Christie, the governor, is likely to sign a revised bill permitting a variety of online gambling as soon as next week. All online ventures will be under the tight control of the Atlantic City casinos. Delaware, the smallest of the three states that are moving ahead with online gambling, also has ambitious plans.

In a harbinger of the new age, gamblers at the Borgata casino in Atlantic City will, as USA Today put it, “be able to lose their shirts without wearing one.” Gamblers staying in one of the casino’s 2,000 rooms can now place their bets right there without venturing onto the casino floor. From there it is only a small step to just staying home and gambling from the hammock.

Internet companies that make online games are watching all this with considerable interest. “Is 2013 going to be a game-changer” asked Paul Thelen of Big Fish Studios, which began offering a gambling app in Britain last fall. “No. But in 2014, it starts getting interesting.”