Frank Fahrenkopf said poker was dead in Nevada — but that was before Internet gambling came along.
“Casinos were closing their poker rooms,” the president/CEO of the American Gaming Association said. “But TV made it exciting and the Internet made it accessible.”
Poker — no limit Texas hold’em in particular — has exploded onto the gambling scene again, in part, because of televised poker tournaments and online poker rooms, where novices can practice without fear of embarrassment.
The World Series of Poker, owned by Harrah’s Entertainment Inc., and the World Poker Tour both sponsor satellite tournaments in Reno. Winners have the opportunity to get a free buy-in to larger tournaments.
Margie Heintz, the poker room manager at the Eldorado Hotel-Casino, agreed that the resurgence of online poker’s popularity has helped bring people into a casino to try it in person.
“A lot of people continuously say they have played online but never in person,” Heintz said. “I have been in poker rooms for 31 years, and no-limit hold’em had become a dinosaur.
“Now, people from all walks of life want to try it.”
Poker is just one of many types of gambling available online, despite the controversy about whether online gambling should be legal in the United States.
The controversy started in 1961, when Congress passed the Wire Act, which prohibits using telephone lines to bet on horse races across state lines.
An exemption was made by the Interstate Horse Racing Act, which 21 states adopted to allow betting on televised races.
When Internet gambling broke onto the scene in the 1990s, the Justice Department decided the Wire Act was broad enough to prohibit Internet gambling.
So gambling site operators moved offshore so U.S. gamblers can play without breaking the law.
The industry estimates that Internet gambling brought in $12 billion to $15 billion, with about 60 percent of that coming from the U.S.
Hard numbers are not available since online gaming isn’t regulated.
“With everything we look at, there is something about gambling that relates to America,” said Ken Adams, a Reno gaming analyst. “Eventually, we would want regulations and controls because outside the U.S. is outside our ability to control.”
Fahrenkopf said for the past 10 years, Federal bills have been presented that would make it illegal to make any kind of wager on the Internet.
“Nothing has passed,” he said. “But our companies still don’t want to get involved with it.”
Many brick-and-mortar casinos don’t consider online gambling direct competition, he said.
“10 years ago, probably 60 percent to 70 percent of profit came from gambling,” he said. “Today, it makes up only about 45 percent of the bottom line.
“People aren’t coming to Rubah4d gamble, but the complete package with entertainment and dining.”
Online gambling has been so lucrative that operators like BetCRIS.com Sportsbook are buying up smaller Web sites and some have already gone public.
“In most countries, major gaming companies are moving into position to participate,” Adams said.
But if gambling on computers isn’t your thing, most major casinos have reopened poker rooms to get the real experience.
Heintz said the poker rooms in town are busier than ever.
“We are open 24-hours-a-day,” she said. “It’s easy to find a live game.”