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Florida internet poker bill dies

Attempts to regulate internet poker in Florida are dead for this year.

In January, Rep. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Wellington, filed HB 77, which proposed intrastate online poker for Florida, with horse and dog tracks and jai-alai frontons offering portals to online poker rooms. The state was to get 10 percent of the revenues.

But the companion bill, sponsored by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, died in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee Tuesday, via a 2-2 vote.

"We'll definitely try it again next year," Abruzzo said.

The Poker Players Alliance, a Washington, D.C.-based group that is backed by the internet poker vendors, such as, opposed the state bill.

"We weren’t pleased with how the bill was drafted," said PPA executive director John Pappas. "We’ve always stated a strong preference for federal legislation."

Says Abruzzo: "We wouldn’t benefit as much as if we did it ourselves. It’s important we get this done."

It is not illegal to play Internet poker, but it's against federal law for a U.S. company to run an online poker room for money, as declared in the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006. Many in the United States play on poker sites through offshore accounts, and other countries have a broad range of regulations and fees.

Online poker confined to inside the boundaries of a single state wouldn't produce enough players, Pappas said.

The Florida Sheriff's Association also voiced opposition to the bill during Tuesday's hearing, calling it "internet crack."

Two other states had serious talks about intrastate online poker, but those efforts also have hit snags. According to media reports, Nevada officials amended a bill to suggest that the federal government approve online poker, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who had a bill to add a variety of online gambling, vetoed it. Christie said legislative approval would constitute an expansion of gambling, which can be approved only by New Jersey voters.

Iowa, California and South Carolina legislators also have proposed intrastate online poker.

The District of Columbia approved online poker, as part of its 2011 budget.

Many types of gambling expansion have been discussed this year in Tallahassee. A bill allowing dog tracks to operate poker rooms without having live racing is still alive, while a proposal to add five large destination casinos across the state has stalled because the bill's sponsor objected to an amendment that lowered the tax rates for pari-mutuels.

Abruzzo noted that his version of the bill also has stalled because Rep. Steve Bovo, chairman of the House Business and Consumer Affairs Committee, resigned to run for Miami-Dade County Commission. That has put his committee in limbo.

"All the bills in that committee are stuck," he said.

Bovo favored the bill, he noted.

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Maybe you've made the right play, maybe you haven't. Your heart speeds up, your stomach rumbles.

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NICK SORTAL began playing 3-card "gut" and "Indian poker" on high school band trips, moved on to "night baseball" and "pass the trash" during a Dr. Pepper-infused midnight game in the 1980s at the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, and now play in a regular neighborhood Hold 'Em game in Plantation. I have been given the assignment of writing about the gambling life in South Florida casinos for the Sun-Sentinel...which means sitting around watching poker on TV now counts as research.
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