Casinos Warm to the Idea of Legal Online Gaming - Monday 12th of January 2009

Strip casinos have been struggling lately to keep up their gaming revenues. Fewer people are visiting Las Vegas and that means even less are gambling. But could the cure for the downturn be reaching out to would-be gamblers in their own homes?

Online gambling sites offer the same variety of games that most Strip casinos do -- from sports betting, to poker and even bingo. But current laws keep online gambling out of the U.S., something that many casinos supported. But some are now seeing it as an opportunity.

The trip to the casino would be only a clink away, and the tables are filled with eager players. Online casinos have been giving gamblers a place to play without the trip to Las Vegas for years, but play is neither legal nor regulated.

"Basically people are allowed to gamble but they dont have any of the protections they would get from legal gaming," said David Schwartz with UNLVs Center for Gaming Research.

When the sites first began in the 1990s, the big casinos feared they would take away players, but now they are seeing the possibilities. If the laws are changed, existing casinos would likely be licensed before foreign based sites, opening the door for big names like MGM and Harrahs to reach new gamblers.

"Having legal online gaming would really help the Strip casinos with their marketing. It would help them find out who is gambling out there," said Schwartz.

Hitting the casino table would no longer mean plane tickets, hotel rooms, and time away from home. But some gamblers say thats the fun.

"You get something for your money then instead of sitting in front of a computer," said Joe Bonin.

The revenue made from online gambling and sports books would be small compared to the action the actual casinos see. Experts say going online would actually be a much better marketing tool than an economic one.

"I dont think it would magically save everything. It may help reverse the decline, but obviously they are going to have to get more people coming in here if they want to bring the revenues up," said Schwartz.

Some feel the new Obama Administration could take steps toward overturning the rules currently keeping internet gambling out of the U.S., but there is no timeline on it right now.

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