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Legalizing Online Poker Could Mean Big Bucks For the Sunshine State

By: Troy Kinsey Email
By: Troy Kinsey Email

Tallahassee, FL - Poker is one big moneymaker for casinos.

Now, Tallahassee wants a cut of the action.

Under a new bill, Internet poker would be legalized in return for tens of millions of dollars in taxes from online card rooms.

“If we choose to go in any direction, like we did with the Seminole pact and some of the pari-mutuel bills from the last couple years, is, they would have to be actual deliverables,” said Sen. Mike Haridopolos, the Senate president. “Not hope, you know. Hope was two years ago. This is practical now.”

For a state that's anything but flush with cash, a potential new revenue stream could be only a few royal flushes away.

But, critics said if it's not done right, the joke could be on us.

Under the bill, the state would only license a few online card rooms, which would be accessible only through the websites of Florida’s 23 pari-mutuels -- primarily dog and horse tracks.

They’d act as a middleman, charging a fee for collecting the taxes.

Nick Iarossi's a lobbyist for the online cardroom betfair.com.

He said the only fair way of doing online poker is to let everyone take part.

“Allow the pari-mutuels to do it also, but also open it up to those with a lot of expertise around the world providing an Internet poker product that can compete with those offshore illegal websites to convince those players to leave those sites and come on to a Florida intrastate system,” Iarossi said.

But, for the politically powerful pari-mutuels, that would be a bad bet.

They don't want a wave of online poker threatening their in-house games.

In the end, like the game itself, the battle over legalization could hinge on the winner of a high-stakes hand in the capitol's halls of power.

Online poker supporters said legalizing it in Florida could make as much as $56 million for the cash-strapped state.


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