Online Sunshine For Racing

Florida lawmakers want poker portals

Several Florida legislators are working on bills to permit Las Vegas-style casino resorts in the state. Even if the projects are approved, it may be years before they could be up and running. But gambling revenues could be raised immediately in this economically challenged state—as early as July 1, say some lawmakers—by allowing portals to online poker rooms at horse and dog tracks and jai-alai frontons.

The legislation would allow up to three poker sites to contract with the state as hubs. Florida’s 23 parimutuels’ card room websites would be portals. Players would access a parimutuel site and join a pool of other players across the state. The hubs would pull a small portion, or “rake,” from each poker pot and pass it along to the card rooms. The state would get 10 percent of each card room’s rake, just like it does now from brick-and-mortar poker rooms.

According to a recent report by the Senate Committee on Regulated Industries, online poker could generate as much as $56 million for the state by 2014. The existing parimutuel card rooms are expected to take in $12 million for the fiscal year that began July 1, when expanded poker laws took effect.

The Seminole Tribe also could set up online poker. It’s entitled to any game the state offers. The state’s $1 billion compact with the tribe would not be affected, except if the tribe’s casino profits dropped 5 percent from one year to the next.

Online poker companies including PokerStars.com and FullTiltPoker.com oppose such legislation. The companies have large audiences and would prefer that Florida legalize their sites rather than work through the parimutuels. Also opposed are online poker players’ groups that want online poker approved nationally.

John Pappas, executive director of the Poker Players Alliance, wants all internet poker sites legalized nationally. He estimates 8 million-10 million Americans, including 400,000 Floridians, play online through offshore accounts. “Internet poker is best for the consumer when you can have a critical mass of players from all jurisdictions and all time zones meeting on a site and playing,” he said.

But Rep. Joseph Abruzzo said, “If they’d pass it, we would receive hardly any revenue.”

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