08/04/2006 12:00AM

Poker, Internet, Vegas casinos make for strange bedfellows


Thumbing through the business section of local newspapers here, one is sometimes dumbfounded by the intertwining stories. See if you can follow the bouncing ball.

A record 8,773 anted up $10,000 each to sit down for round one of the main event at the Rio in this year's World Series of Poker. As of Thursday, when the players took a break, 1,541 had moved on, shooting for a seat at the final table, where each player will receive $1 million, with more than $12 million to the winner. Who would have thought it would get so big?

Internet websites and television coverage are the two biggest catalysts fueling the widespread success of poker today. But if the U.S. lawmakers have their way, poker will no longer be played online.

A measure passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in March will make online gambling, including poker, a federal crime. The bill, in essence, prohibits banks and credit card companies from making payments on behalf of their American customers to Internet gambling sites. The bill, which is being held up in the Senate, exempts parimutuel horse racing, which some think is unfair.

Las Vegas-based casino companies have been left at the post when it comes to Internet wagering, a $12 billion a year business that is expected to double by 2010. Some Nevada gaming companies have tested the Internet gaming waters, such as MGM Mirage, which once owned an online gambling license on the Isle of Man, but relinquished it because of regulatory scrutiny. Although Nevada gaming companies once supported banning Internet gambling, they have changed their posture with wind of potential profits that they currently cannot enjoy.

Nevada's Washington contingent has championed an alternative bill to study the impact of Internet gaming and the possibility of regulating - which means taxing - online gaming to allow U.S. companies a share in the bonanza. The bill, which advocates an 18-month study, was introduced by Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev., and has 49 sponsors. The two-term congressman intends to visit - of all places - the Isle of Man for a fact-finding trip and hopes other members of Congress join him on the taxpayer-funded journey.

Now, bringing the news about poker, online betting, and gaming companies full circle, Nevada gaming regulators are considering a proposal by a Washington attorney, Harry Platis, allowing casinos to take parimutuel bets on players in the World Series of Poker. Platis's proposal was denied by a Nevada Gaming Control Board member, but he is appealing to the full board and may take it to the state Gaming Commission.

Imagine how much more interest would be generated in the World Series of Poker if people from around the country had a betting interest.

An Internet parimutuel betting site for poker run by a Nevada-based gaming company may not be as far-fetched as one might think.

Ralph Siraco is turf editor for the Las Vegas Sun and host of the Race Day Las Vegas radio show.