Thursday, March 29, 2012

Wither Gambling? Wither Casinos? Wither Nevada? (Maybe Not.)

For the first time in nearly three decades, the Gaming Policy Committee met yesterday. Why? Need I tell you why?

As we had discussed last month, online gaming is looking increasingly like reality. So the State of Nevada is trying to neutralize the threat as quickly as possible... And perhaps turn this threat into an opportunity.

After all, "The Las Vegas Recovery" has already been factored into Governor Brian Sandoval's budget plan. If something like online gaming (authorized somewhere else) eats into big casinos' revenue, then his budget is further thrown into doubt.

Yet, the big casinos are fearing what happens if/when online wagering becomes reality. How will the gaming experience change? How can they continue making money? When they figure out how to profit off online gaming, they will jump on it.

And a growing chorus demands that the state jump on this... Or else face the severe economic consequences of being left in the dust.

The Internet gambling policy debate could be one of the most complex issues the committee has undertaken. The result of the committee’s work could yield either some of the most important polices ever produced for the state’s economic future or much ado about nothing if lawmakers fail to address the issue.

Most believe that the need for government entities to generate revenue will pressure lawmakers to act on Internet gambling eventually, but how it would be made allowable is an open question. Sandoval says he wants the state to be ready for any eventuality, including the prospect of Nevada offering intrastate wagering if federal lawmakers fail to act. [...]

Paul Matthews Jr., of Las Vegas-based IncuBET, a game designer, said the Internet gambling issue was critical to Nevada. It offers an economic opportunity if Nevada were to become a host jurisdiction or a regulatory hub for online gaming.

And that's perhaps the silver lining here. If we take the lead on this, we may just realize opportunity. As we discussed almost two weeks ago, Nevada can take the lead on this by taking the role of "Silicon Valley of Gaming". If we play our cards right, that means Nevada can become the I/T hub of the global gaming industry, foster innovation in online wagering, and provide critical infrastructure support for casinos around the world. But alas, that would require us to actually invest in public education so we have a workforce ready to take advantage of this opportunity.

Still, there's really no reason why we shouldn't embrace the future. After all, Nevada faced a difficult crossroads thirty years ago, when New Jersey was staring us down as Atlantic City rose to the top. Yet what ended up happening? Atlantic City is now faltering, and it's betting on everything from going down-market to opening a dazzling new upscale behemoth to change the game. Meanwhile here at home, Las Vegas casinos have actually managed to recover with less gaming activity by turning to night clubs/day clubs and other new "cash cows" to lure tourists.

If neither Atlantic City nor tribal casinos could kill Las Vegas (even if the latter have caused problems for Reno), then how can online poker? Only if we let it. Remember that. Nevada just needs to figure out how to take advantage of the next gaming trend. And if we actually bother to invest in our future by educating the next generation of innovators and leaders, we really can drop our fear and learn to love Facebook blackjack and Twitter roulette (if we can ever figure out how to compress a spin of the wheel into 140 characters or less). ;-)

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