Thursday, March 24, 2011 | 1:13 p.m.
CARSON CITY – Opening the door for online poker in Nevada could bring jobs and money to the state at a time when the economy is hurting, supporters said today.
The Senate Judiciary Committee heard three hours of testimony on a bill sought by PokerStars, a company that operates Internet poker games. No action was taken.
PokerStars presented a variety of witnesses, including a professional poker player, lawyers and economists hoping to convince the committee to approve Assembly Bill 258. The bill is opposed by the Nevada Resort Association, whose members include casinos along the Strip.
Las Vegas economist Jeremy Aguero, testifying for PokerStars, said 1,180 jobs could be created in Nevada and it would produce $7.7 million in wages each year, with taxes to the state ranging from $37.1 million to $65.1 million.
Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, who introduced the bill, said casinos fear competition from other companies that might come into Nevada and start operating Internet poker businesses. “The issue is one of competition,” he said.
Peter Ernaut, representing the Resort Association, said the U.S. Department of Justice issued a letter in 2002 that Internet gambling isn't legal in the country.
“It’s illegal,” Ernaut said, adding that he favored a federal law to permit Internet poker nationwide. A bill in the Senate last year failed.
One of the major concerns of committee members was that juveniles might steal credit cards from their parents to play online poker games.
Assemblywoman Marilyn Dondero Loop, D-Las Vegas, said “Kids are pretty darn clever.” She said she had a hard time seeing that underage children could be stopped.
But Dondero Loop and others were told by a representative of a company that supplies security systems that there are ways to prevent children from signing in to a poker game.
Michael Bolcerek, a senior vice president at Aristotle, said potential players are asked a series of questions, such as the last four digits of their Social Security number, their fishing license number, when they last voted and how long they had owned their home.
Assemblyman Steven Brooks, D-Las Vegas, questioned what would happen if a minor got by the system, get into the game and lose several thousand dollars of his parents.
Bolcerek said parents would be liable for that gambling debt.
“This is a parenting issue,” said professional poker player Vanessa Rousso, who testified in support of the bill. “Parents should raise their kids well.”
Rousso said Internet poker would draw more women than men. She said women are uncomfortable sitting at a table with male players.
Ernaut, who said Internet poker was inevitable, suggested that players wouldn’t come to Nevada and spend money in restaurants, bars and showrooms in they could play online. But supporters said it would spur tourism.
Poker isn't a big revenue producer for Nevada and barely covers the expenses to operate it, said Scott Scherer, attorney for PokerStars.
Richard Perkins, representing PokerStars, told the committee he doubted a federal bill could be approved even with the support of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “There are significant challenges in the Senate,” he said.
“If we wait for a federal solution, several other states will leapfrog us,” he said.