Sunday, Feb. 12, 2006 | 12:33 p.m.
Tens of thousands of Nevadans routinely break state gaming laws by illegally playing online poker, but the state's gaming cops don't seem to care.
Nevada is one of the few states to have enacted laws making it illegal to gamble online. Web casino operators contend that their operations don't violate federal law - an assertion disputed by the Justice Department - but even if an ongoing legal battle backs the Web casinos' point of view, it clearly remains illegal for Nevadans to gamble on the Internet.
But tens of thousands do - and it's no wonder. The state doesn't advertise the fact that Nevadans routinely break the law. The state doesn't warn its citizens against playing poker for money on the Internet.
Many of those players think that they are playing legally.
And you can't blame them.
There are hundreds of commercials for online poker sites running on the dozens of poker television shows that air in Las Vegas every week.
The biggest Web poker sites accept bets from the United States, and they admit that more than half of their revenues come from U.S. players.
The nation's top poker magazine is chock full of Internet casino ads. Card Player is owned and published here, and is distributed for free in many Las Vegas poker rooms.
Ads for the top Web poker sites, PartyPoker, PokerStars, Paradise Poker, UltimateBet and Full Tilt, run alongside ads for poker rooms at Bellagio, Aladdin, MGM Grand and Mirage.
Card Player's Feb. 1 issue featured 21 full pages of online poker advertising in the magazine's 156 pages. Las Vegas casino poker rooms bought fewer than 10 full pages of ads.
The game's leading players, many of whom live in Las Vegas, tout the Web sites that sponsor them and invite players to play against them online.
In one Card Player ad, former World Series of Poker world champion Phil Hellmuth pitches a poker school at Caesars Palace that ended last week. "Camp Hellmuth" was sponsored by UltimateBet.
In a two-page ad, former WSOP champ Doyle Brunson's web site, DoylesRoom.com quotes Brunson: "Get your place at the table with me and some of my friends." If a player knocks Brunson or his son Todd, both Las Vegas residents, out of one of the site's bounty tournaments, the player collects $250.
All of the online poker ads carry fine print disclaimers at the bottom. The DoylesRoom disclaimer: "Enjoy our free games, and before playing in our real-money games, please check with your local jurisdiction regarding the legality of Internet gaming."
What a joke. These sites know that they are breaking the law by allowing Nevadans to play poker online for money.
But the money's too good to follow the law.
And the money's too good for Card Player to make the advertisers note that playing online is illegal - at least in Nevada.
But why do the poker rooms provide the magazines that are full of ads enticing Nevadans to break the law?
Why don't gaming regulators act to stop the casinos from distributing the magazines? And why doesn't law enforcement prosecute Nevada poker pros who freely admit in print and Web ads, in interviews and on their online blogs, that they play Internet poker for money?
State regulators say that they're taking a wait-and-see approach to Internet poker, hoping that the federal government takes action against the Web sites.
But while regulators fiddle, these offshore scofflaws thumb their noses at Nevada, raking in big bucks and making lawbreakers out of our citizens.
Jeff Simpson can be reached at 259-4083 or at [email protected]