Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, left, and Assembly Majority Leader William Horne, a Democrat from Las Vegas, present their online gambling proposal in committee Feb. 21 at the Legislative Building in Carson City, Nev. / Cathleen Allison, AP
CARSON CITY, Nev. - Nevada has legalized online gambling, speeding a bill through joint committees and both houses of the legislature in less than four hours.
The state's governor, Republican Brian Sandoval who also is a former chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission, had signed the emergency measure by 4 p.m. PST Thursday.
Nevada wanted to beat New Jersey, its East Coast casino rival, to the online gambling punch. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie previously vetoed an online wagering bill but indicated he may sign an amended version next week.
Earlier this month, Delaware sought bids from vendors to have games up and running no later than Sept. 30.
A.G. Burnett, chairman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, said the state already has about 20 applications from various operators, equipment and software vendors to be licensed for online gambling.
Assembly Bill 114 authorizes Nevada to enter into compacts with other states to offer Internet poker and other online gambling to patrons in Nevada and participating states.
In 2011, lawmakers passed a bill that put Nevada in position to legalize Internet gambling if the federal government sanctioned it. But when those efforts failed in Congress, Sandoval said Nevada would work toward agreements with other states.
But Reno gaming analyst Ken Adams said other states that might want in on the online gambling business could decide to contest Nevada's role in establishing parameters for online poker and expansion to other games down the road.
"Not every state will think it's good for Nevada to dictate the terms," Adams said. "A bit of a fight could happen. This could end up going to court."
The bill approved Thursday resolved a disagreement over licensing fees. The governor had wanted companies to pay a $500,000 fee to offer online gambling while in the original bill draft the House majority leader, a Democrat, proposed a $1 million fee.
Poker players will have to be physically online in Nevada or other states that would be part of a compact to participate. But one lawmaker worried that online games could hurt some casinos in rural areas that already took a hit when Indian gaming became widespread in more than a dozen states.
"My concern is its impact on the small casinos of Nevada," said Rep. Ira Hansen, a Republican from Sparks, Nev., who represents a large portion of rural Nevada. "We are rushing this thing through.
You can't stop progress, said lobbyist Pete Ernaut. The future of gambling is online.
"We could stick our head in the sand and say we don't want to participate, and theoretically, 49 other states would," he said. "We are ... maintaining our leadership position and putting the best rules in place as possible."
Contributing: Bill O'Driscoll, Reno (Nev.) Gazette-Journal, and The Associated Press
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