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Online gambling could kill Vegas

By now, you’ve probably seen the TV commercials.

In one, a poker player breaks into a casino version of a touchdown dance after winning a hand, a sure-fire way to raise the anger of fellow players. But playing on the Internet from the privacy of his home, the commercial suggests, would allow him to celebrate victory anyway he wants, even in his underwear.

In another, a player laments his collection of “tells,” those uncontrollable tics that are the casual poker player’s worst enemy. (An expert has told him he has more than 60 tells, he says.) In the privacy of his home, he doesn’t have to worry about those tells, however — a sucker in a casino game can be a big winner online, the commercial implies.

Why would any amateur want to gamble in a casino, the commercials (advertising the World Series of Poker’s online poker site owned by Caesars Entertainment) seem to ask, when all you need to do is fire up the computer and log on to avoid the hassles of heading to the real thing.

No wonder many of the gaming companies in Nevada that aren’t jumping onto the online gaming bandwagon are nervous these days. The casino owners are pointing out their own weaknesses to potential customers.

The casino business in Nevada already has undergone significant changes as the gaming spread throughout the nation. Just this month, voters in New York State authorized casinos as a tool to reinvigorate the decaying Catskill resorts.

Where casinos once were able to use cheap rooms, restaurants and headliner shows as loss leaders thanks to the high profits provided by slot machines and table games, today every facet of a hotel-casino’s operations is expected to add to the bottom line. If online games catch on — and early signs are that they will — they could well cut into the number of people who visit the state’s brick-and-mortar casinos and force owners to concentrate even more on non-gamblers and the attractions needed to keep their resorts in the black.

So far that’s a minor concern in Nevada, which only allows Websites to offer online poker, a game with a relatively limited participant base. Only two companies have been approved for Internet gaming by the Nevada Gaming Control Board so far. (The second is Ultimate Poker, owned by Stations Casinos. Ultimate Poker has been operating since April, but the GCB won’t release revenue figures until there are three online-poker companies.)

New Jersey’s online gaming law, which went into effect on Monday, is a bit more expansive. Ultimate Casino, also owned by Stations, offers the entire gaming gamut — virtual slots, poker machines, poker and table games. Unless there’s a technological meltdown (a la the federal government’s health care Website), that’s likely to be the future of online games, especially if Nevada and New Jersey join in a compact to offer games across state lines, as allowed under state law, or Congress approves a national Internet gambling law.

It’s one more complication for a business that seemed so simple when Nevada had the casino industry all to itself, and those days are never coming back. Casino owners have their work cut out for themselves.

— An editorial from the Reno-Gazette Journal

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