A top lobbyist told more than 350 gambling regulators and operators Wednesday that commercial casinos want a fair shot for everyone when it comes to online gambling _ not a leg up over state lotteries, American Indian tribes and others jockeying to be first in line.
Though many officials across various sectors of the gambling world think Americans will somehow be able to gamble online someday, nobody knows exactly when or how that will happen _ or who will offer the games.
The uncertainty and variety of possible legislative maneuvering has underscored divisions, but CEO Frank Fahrenkopf of the American Gaming Association said Wednesday that the betting world doesn't need to be split.
"I try to tell our lottery friends this all the time ... that every form of legal gaming must be treated the same and fairly," Fahrenkopf said. "No one gets a leg up on anybody else. That's been our position all the way through."
But he conceded that he doesn't think state lotteries believe him.
"Their view is that the casino industry is trying to screw them," he said.
While there's no full consensus, commercial casinos led by Fahrenkopf's group have been pushing for a federal law to legalize online poker. State lotteries have been largely against a nationwide law, worried that Internet wagers run by competitors could take away from lottery sales and therefore revenues used to fund education and other initiatives. State laws would force commercial casino companies to compete in multiple jurisdictions as likely underdogs to more politically connected lottery organizations and tribes.
Tribes are widely split on what to do, but are overall looking to fiercely protect one of few means to producing wealth for their people.
Fahrenkopf said in an interview after his remarks that he thinks casino companies would be fine competing state by state.
"We're not there yet," he said."
Fahrenkopf's unusually animated comments came at the start of the Gaming Laboratories International Rountable in Las Vegas, where tribal and state regulators from Canada, Curacao, Puerto Rico and 32 U.S. states, including California, Arizona, Texas, Iowa and New York were in attendance.
Fahrenkopf said the only way to be fair to all is to pass a federal bill that in part shuts down some 2,000 websites that currently offer illegal online gambling to Americans.
"Tribes are never going to agree that they've got to go to a state government to get approval to run something, so you have to have the federal government involved to be the agency to work with tribes on licensing and regulation," he said. "So you need a federal presence."
He said that while arguments can be made for legalizing all casino games online, including blackjack and slots, trying for more than poker would make any bill lose key support in Congress.
Fahrnekopf said his group is holding out for a proposal that can best please everyone, but it'll be tough to pass a law before the November elections given campaigning and posturing between Republicans and Democrats in Washington.
"This is an industry that depends on luck," he said. "We gotta be lucky."
Oskar Garcia can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/oskargarcia.