Published February 22. 2013 4:00AM
Carson City, Nev. - The Nevada Legislature unanimously approved an online gambling bill Thursday, sending the bill to Gov. Brian Sandoval on a fast-track effort to retain the state's status as the leader in gambling regulation.
AB114 sailed through both the Assembly and Senate after a joint hearing before the two judiciary committees Thursday morning. Sandoval was expected to sign the bill by the end of the day.
In testimony before the committees, Sandoval said, "The bill you are considering today is necessary for Nevada to take the next step in allowing our most important industry to enter this new frontier," and he urged lawmakers to move quickly.
Lawmakers in 2011 passed a bill that put Nevada in position to legalize Internet gambling if the federal government sanctioned it. But when those efforts failed in Congress, Sandoval said Nevada would work toward agreements with other states.
Several other states began looking into online gambling after the Department of Justice issued a letter in 2011 stating that the federal Wire Act of 1961, often used to crack down on gambling over the Internet, only applies to sports betting.
New Jersey lawmakers are expected to vote on similar legislation next week after Gov. Chris Christie indicated he would sign a bill he previously vetoed if changes are made.
Assembly Majority Leader William Horne, D-Las Vegas, who sponsored Nevada's bill, praised the governor and the bipartisan efforts of his fellow lawmakers.
The bill allows Nevada to enter into agreements with other states with larger gambling populations and share revenues.
Pete Ernaut, a lobbyist representing the Nevada Resort Association, said expanding the customer base was key.
"It's imperative for the success of this that we compact with other states because we don't have a universe of players," Ernaut said.
The benefit for other states, he said, is Nevada's "most mature regulatory infrastructure."
"We have the most mature financial, auditing and collection capabilities, much greater than some of those states, and they have the players," he said.
The bill approved Thursday resolved a disagreement between Horne and the governor's office over licensing fees. Sandoval had pushed for companies that want to offer online gambling to pay a $500,000 fee, while Horne, in the original bill draft, proposed $1 million.
Under a compromise, the fee was set at $500,000, though it gives the Nevada Gaming Commission authority to change the amount. A renewal fee was set at $250,000.