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Casino chiefs talk about industry vulnerability

Associated Press Modified: October 3, 2012 at 4:01 pm •  Published: October 3, 2012

"Americans are illegally gambling today online with no protections whatsoever," Murren said, "whether they're underage or have any type of addictive behavior."

He said he hoped federal regulations would provide "consistency ... instead of a patchwork of regulations state-by-state that we as operators and potential participants, and customers, will have to navigate through."

The gaming association's chief lobbyist, Frank Fahrenkopf Jr., said Tuesday that while 85 countries have legalized online gambling, and billions of dollars are at stake, he wasn't sure Congress this year would pass a measure such as one backed by Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona.

U.S. laws currently prohibit Internet gambling across state lines. But after the U.S. Justice Department last December narrowed the application of the federal Interstate Wire Act of 1961 only to sports wagering, states including Nevada and Delaware began taking steps to allow online betting.

Several casinos have been licensed in Nevada to offer online poker to residents within the state. Illinois has begun selling lottery tickets online.

Gambling equipment makers on the panel said they saw opportunities for their businesses, with Internet poker introduced around the world and other casino games following.

"Don't think of it as threatening," said Patti Hart, chief executive of Reno-based International Game Technology. "Think of it as layering. It allows the industry to grow again."

Brian Gamache, president and chief executive of WMS Industries of Waukeegan, Ill., said his electronic and digital gambling machine manufacturer has been doing business in the United Kingdom for three years. He called Internet poker a "stalking horse" that attracts players who later turn to other games that are more profitable for operators.

Walter Bugno, the head of Las Vegas gambling systems maker Spielo International, called customer loyalty and retention the key challenge for companies offering Internet gambling.

"It's only one click of the finger and you're gone," Bugno said.