Iowa bill would legalize some online gambling - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Iowa bill would legalize some online gambling

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -- Gambling online is currently not allowed.  But it could be legal if a bill being considered by the Iowa legislature is approved.  The bill would allow people ages 21 and up to play online poker for money, which is federally prohibited in the U.S.  But states can individually legalize and oversee Internet gambling if it takes place only inside that state.

Currently, it's estimated that there are about 150,000 people playing online poker illegally in Iowa.  Experts say that's depriving the state of at least $30 million in gaming revenues each year.  So, making Internet gambling legal could pull in some extra cash, but some are concerned it could increase the rate of gambling addiction.

You don't have to look too hard to find thousands of gambling websites.  And sitting behind a computer to play casino games can make it easy for someone to get addicted.

"Without a doubt, there can be no accountability to it.  You can do that without being seen at a casino so therefore no one saw us coming and going, coming and going.  So we could increase the amount of money we spend on gambling and the amount of time we spend gambling without there ever being any sign of that to other people," said Jim Thompson, addictions specialist with Allen Hospital.

Right now, you can play your favorite casino games on many websites without making a wager.  But often, with sites that are based outside the U.S., you can gamble with real money.  And since thousands of Iowans are already making online bets, some Iowa legislators would like the state to get a cut, the same way it rakes in money from casinos.

"We can understand the fact that people would reach to gambling right now," Thompson said.

But if the bill goes through and legalizes online poker, addiction experts fear that more Iowans could start gambling their lives away.

"The floodgates start to open a little bit and it just brings more gambling into the country and more people are negatively impacted.  It's not an activity without its risks," said Thompson.

But for now, it's in the hands of legislators in Des Moines to let the chips on legalizing online gaming fall where they may.

The online poker proposal still has several legislative hurdles to jump.  If it does in fact become law, the bill would allow approved gamblers to deposit money into accounts held by local, state regulated casinos.  We also reached out to the Isle Casino in Waterloo for its reaction to this proposed legislation, but it did not offer comment.

Right now, New Jersey, California, and Florida are also considering proposals to legalize online gaming.  The bill in New Jersey is currently on the governor's desk and must be signed or vetoed by Thursday.  If it's approved, New Jersey would become the first state to legalize online gambling.

KWWL Reporter:  Kera Mashek

 

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