Speaker: Iowa House won't ante up; online poker is dead

Little interest in measure among lawmakers, leaders say

DES MOINES — Online poker enthusiasts appear to have run out of luck.

The Iowa House doesn’t plan to take up the bill, which the Senate approved 29-20 earlier this week. The legislation would legalize online poker and bring it under state regulation.

“We really didn’t expect it to come over from the Senate,” House State Government Chairman Peter Cownie, R-West Des Moines, said Thursday.

The Senate plan would have allowed competing hub operators to partner with state-licensed casinos under the control of the Racing and Gaming Commission. Those operators would then have been allowed to run online sites for registered players ages 21 and older within Iowa, with the sites subject to the state’s current gaming fee structure.

The bill wasn’t introduced in the House until Thursday morning. That was too late for committee action, Cownie said.

“There are deadlines and this really was a victim of the funnel,” he said referring to the Legislature’s self-imposed deadline of today for non-spending measures to clear one legislative chamber and a committee of the other.

Deadline or not, it’s too soon to declare the issue dead for the session. Cownie he has been approached by people interested in finding a way to keep the bill alive. There are a variety of ways to do that, but Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said he has no plans to deal the issue another hand by making it a leadership bill.

Another possibility would be for the chairs of the House Ways and Means and Appropriations committees to start their own online poker bill. Paulsen said he thought it unlikely either Reps. Tom Sands, R-Wapello, or Scott Raecker, R-Urbandale, respectively, would choose to do that.

Neither Paulsen nor House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Des Moines, said they see the issue as partisan.

“I think there was some bipartisan support for it and there was some bipartisan opposition,” McCarthy said.

Overall, Paulsen said, there has been a “general lack of interest” in online poker among House members.

“What are we in? Week 10?” Paulsen said. “I don’t know if I’ve had three members mention this subject to me ... until this week when the big hubbub was.”

That was when the Senate spent less than 10 minutes on the floor debating the bill.“I don’t know if it was that the gaming lobby was working hard over there or there was a particular champion in the Senate, but there seemed to be quite a bit of discussion in the Senate on it,” Paulsen said.