By Timothy Pratt
LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Nevada regulators have approved the first marketing agreement between a Las Vegas hotel and casino company and an overseas Internet gambling concern, a move welcomed by advocates for legalized online gambling in the United States.
Caesars Entertainment won approval on Thursday for its business relationship with subsidiaries of 888 Holdings PLC, an Israeli company that offers online poker, sports betting and casino games in Italy, France and the United Kingdom.
Experts see the deal as a key move by Caesars to position itself to cash in on the eventual legalization of Internet gambling in the United States, as industry lobbyists have sought for years.
"It's absolutely laying the groundwork for when bricks and mortar casinos are able to do what they're not able to do yet," said Anthony Curtis, publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor, an industry newsletter.
Commenting on the agreement, Nevada Gaming Commissioner Randolph Townsend said, "this is the first of perhaps many relationships that will be developed over time."
At stake is a piece of what 888 Holdings described as an $18 billion annual market, according to 2009 figures, a number that would only grow if the current legal environment changes.
"It's very positive for those who have been lobbying for legalized, regulated gaming online ... and ultimately we hope to see some form of regulated online gaming in the United States," said Mitch Garber, CEO of Caesars Interactive Entertainment, during a break immediately before the Nevada Gaming Commission voted unanimously in favor of the deal.
The contract allows Caesars Entertainment to extend its globally recognized brand, the World Series of Poker, now in its 42nd year, to online players abroad, according to Seth Palansky, Caesars Interactive Entertainment spokesman.
For now, he said, the deal with 888 Holdings will allow Caesars to "learn about the business (of Internet gaming) and make some money along the way."
He also said that legalizing online gaming may take time, citing an industry standard that legislation regulating gambling can take up to a decade.
"We're in it for the long term," he said.
(Editing by Steve Gorman and Jerry Norton)