As New Jersey and other states try to cash in on Internet gambling, a top lobbyist for the U.S. casino industry maintained it would be better for Congress to pass a federal law that restricts online wagering to poker.

Whitaker Askew, vice president of the American Gaming Association, a national trade group, argued that a hodgepodge of state Internet gambling laws could lack consumer protections and allow unscrupulous operators to infiltrate the industry.

“The federal solution is the best way of doing this,” Askew said Monday during an Internet gambling symposium at Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City.

Askew said the AGA believes that a federal law would provide far more stringent consumer safeguards in the emerging online gambling trade. Individual state laws simply would create “a patchwork of rules and regulations,” he added.

Askew’s call for federal standards comes as New Jersey awaits action by Gov. Chris Christie on the state’s proposed Internet gambling law. Christie is facing a deadline Thursday to sign or veto an online gambling bill approved in December by the state Legislature. His office has declined to say what the governor plans to do.

Israel Posner, a casino analyst with the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, speculated the governor may conditionally veto the bill to restrict Internet gambling to online poker.

“I think a relative down-the-middle approach is online poker,” said Posner, executive director of Stockton’s Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism.

Posner said poker would allow New Jersey to experiment with a limited form of Internet wagering before it decides whether to offer a panoply of games. As it is currently structured, the Internet gambling bill would allow online wagering on the slot machines and table games at the Atlantic City casinos.

Under the bill, gamblers would set up accounts with casinos allowing them to bet online from home. Christie vetoed a similar Internet bill in 2011, saying then that online gambling would have violated New Jersey’s constitution, which restricts casino-style gambling to Atlantic City. Proponents of the new bill say Internet gambling would be constitutional because computers and other equipment needed for online wagering would be located at the casinos or elsewhere in Atlantic City.

Askew stressed that it is the American Gaming Association’s position that online gambling nationwide should be limited to poker. He said a federal law overseeing poker play would ensure uniform standards as well as strict consumer safeguards to prevent problems such as fraud or underage gambling.

However, Askew acknowledged that Congress has not yet shown a willingness to legalize Internet gambling, despite the efforts of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to craft federal legislation for online poker.

Congressional debate on spending cuts, immigration reform and gun control likely will dominate Washington, D.C., politics in coming weeks and months, meaning that Internet gambling will be overshadowed for some time to come, Askew noted.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada have approved some form of Internet gambling, while other states are debating whether they too should get in on the action. Internet gambling is expected to be a financial boon for the Atlantic City casino industry, with one estimate saying it will generate between $650 million and $850 million in revenue for New Jersey in the first year alone and $1.5 billion within five years.

The Rational Group, parent company of online gambling giants PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, has agreed to buy the Atlantic Club Casino Hotel for an undisclosed amount, a deal seen as a way for the company to get an early jump on New Jersey’s Internet betting craze if it becomes legal.

Speakers at Atlantic City’s Internet gambling symposium noted that online wagering represents the wave of the future in the casino industry. They said online gambling laws are changing rapidly to try to keep up with trends.

“Certainly, Internet gambling is a topic changing almost daily,” said Frank DiGiacomo, a New Jersey attorney who specializes in casino law.

Delaware, home to three casinos, is preparing to offer Internet gambling as soon as September. The state is scheduled on April 22 to select the primary vendor that will oversee the Internet betting system, said Klaus Belohoubek, general counsel for Dover Downs Gaming & Entertainment Inc., owner of Delaware’s Dover Downs Hotel & Casino.

Delaware would start with intrastate Internet gambling for slots and table games, but could expand by linking up with other states or jurisdictions where online wagering is legal, Belohoubek said.

Nevada currently allows in-state bets on Internet poker. Nevada lawmakers are considering legislation to expand online poker to include bets from players in other states.

Contact Donald Wittkowski:

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