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A High-Stakes Poker Game: Fighting Over Online Gaming

The company, which expects to make close to half a billion dollars in wagers this year, recently hired Prism Public Affairs and Democratic lobbyist Paul Equale of Equale & Associates. The company is trying to make the case to lawmakers that online gaming can be done with safeguards to help prevent abusive and underage gambling from occurring.

“We’ve always operated our business under a legal regime,” company CEO Michael Brodsky said. “We think that we do things pretty well in terms of managing customers and making sure that the conduct is appropriate, follows state laws and addresses problem gambling and underage gambling.”

Longtime brick-and-mortar casino operator Harrah’s Entertainment also registered to lobby for the first time this year. The company spent about $405,000 during the first quarter of 2009, according to Senate lobbying disclosure records.

The decision for Harrah’s to get involved in Washington comes as the American Gaming Association, the casinos’ trade association, is staying neutral in the debate.

The AGA’s members are divided over the issue with some, including Steve Wynn, founder of Wynn Resorts, opposing the regulation of online gaming.

AGA President Frank Fahrenkopf said the group will examine Frank’s bill once it’s introduced and will use three criteria to decide whether it will support the legislation: whether the bill gives equal parity to all gaming activities, if the legislation makes any currently legal gaming operations illegal, and whether it upholds states’ rights.

Harrah’s Jan Jones said the company, which owns the World Series of Poker, decided to get in on the lobbying game because online gaming is happening regardless of whether the U.S. legalizes and regulates it.

“Poker play alone for U.S. customers is more than $6 billion and it’s totally unregulated,” said Jones, senior vice president for communications and government relations for the company.

Jones added: “That’s money that could go to health care reform.”

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