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Friday, May 3, 2013

Vegas Web Site Is Test for Legal Online Gambling

Las Vegas Web Site Is Test for Legal Online Gambling

LAS VEGAS â€" As the nation’s first legal, pay-to-play poker Web site embarks on a 30-day trial period, players from every state and Europe are logging on, even as casino companies, tech developers, regulators and lawmakers alike examine the technology for strengths and flaws.

Station Casinos, a local company with 16 properties in the Las Vegas Valley, took ultimatepoker.com online on Tuesday. The company hopes to bring some clarity to the debate among gambling officials and lawmakers about online gambling.

At issue is whether the company can verify that the site’s users are over 21 and in Nevada, using identification and geolocation software, among other tools. Visitors to Nevada can register to play before arriving in the state.

Opponents have expressed concern about minors using the site.

The site’s activation accelerated a race that started this year when Nevada passed a law that legalized online gambling, beating New Jersey by a matter of weeks.

Bo Bernhard, executive director of the International Gaming Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, called the site a milestone.

“It’s the first online casino â€" in the state that developed the modern casino resort,” Mr. Bernhard said.

About 30 hours after the site opened, Tom Breitling, the Ultimate Poker chairman, crowed about being “first out of the gate” and said he was surprised to see “pent-up demand” as poker players expressed interest in the site.

Mr. Breitling also pointed to the “huge responsibility” that came with being first, as dozens of companies hope to open similar Web sites in Nevada and other states.

Keith S. Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, said “the Internet poses risks for problem gambling,” and pointed to data from Europe that suggests that frequent gambling on the Internet is associated with problem gambling, or addictive behavior.

Mr. Whyte said he wants to see online gambling in the United States unfold with controls like those in Europe, including software that tracks gambling behavior online and displays for user information like account balances and time spent playing. He said that Nevada’s legislation did not have such requirements.

“Nevada is in some ways playing with fire,” he said.

A. G. Burnett, chairman of Nevada’s Gaming Control Board, said that comments and observations would be gathered from users and Ultimate Poker during the 30-day trial. The board will decide whether the site should be allowed to continue operating and, two weeks after that, the Nevada Gaming Commission will make the final decision.

The same procedure is followed for every new game introduced in Nevada casinos, Mr. Burnett said. Approving a form of gambling that takes place over the Internet, instead of in a bricks-and-mortar casino, means “we’re entering into a different world.”

“Everybody’s going to be trying to test it, hack it, get into it,” he said.

Nearly two dozen companies have obtained licenses to participate in some aspect of online gambling, including MGM Resorts International, Bally and Caesars, often through subsidiaries or in partnership with other companies.

A version of this article appeared in print on May 3, 2013, on page B5 of the New York edition with the headline: Las Vegas Web Site Is Test For Legal Online Gambling.