29 May 2001
The creator of a bill that would legalize online gambling in Nevada sent out a warning today to industry insiders, and her message was very clear: "Don't believe everything you read," said Nevada Assemblywoman Merle Berman.

Berman was referencing various published reports throughout Nevada that claimed AB 578 was dead.

The reports were the result of weekend activity in the Nevada legislature that had many wondering if the bill had seen its final days.

The bill, which passed in the Assembly last month and was voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee May 21, was put in legislative limbo Saturday when it was removed from a scheduled vote.

The legislature will adjourn June 4 and will not return for another session until 2003.

The Internet gaming bill was only one of several bills affected by legislative rules that required the Senate to pass Assembly bills by Monday and the Assembly to pass Senate bills. Both houses worked until about 9 p.m. to clear the decks.

A vote was never taken on Assembly Bill 578, which was on the desk of the secretary of the Senate.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Mark James, R-Las Vegas, who supported the bill, says it died because of politics.

"I think it is somewhat unfortunate that we lost that bill," he told the Las Vegas Review Journal. "But it was a casualty of the machinations of the legislative process."

James says he was not privy to the discussions about the bill and could not comment on the specifics of why it died.

Assembly Judiciary Chairman Bernie Anderson, D-Sparks, described the debate among lawmakers as a game of ping pong.

"We volley and they return volley," he said. "The game is not over until (adjournment). This is when the most mischief is done."

Berman is holding out hope though that a last-minute deal in what she's calling a big poker game. And she feels confident in its passage.

"I would say the chances are 100 percent it will pass," she said.

Berman said anything that gets passed in the next week will be different than the bill which the Senate Judiciary Committee passed last week with amendments to it.

"The bill can still be passed; it will just be piggy-backed on to another bill," she said. "It will be a chapter of a bill and it will only be enabling legislation that sets the tax policy, and that is what the bill was meant to be from the beginning anyway."

As more amendments were piled on the bill, it was easy to see its doom, according to Berman.

"Once all the amendments were added eyebrows started raising," she said. "But I think there is enough interest in the bill that we can find another vehicle to put the bill in."

But even for that to happen, Berman says a member of the Judiciary Committee in either house will have to purpose such a move.

Although there are less than 120 hours left in the 120-day session of the biannual legislature, supporters of the move are still hopeful something can be done to save the bill.

"We're still committed to make the bill become law," Nevada Resorts Association President Bill Bible said.

Berman introduced the original interactive gambling bill. Before it left the Assembly, it was incorporated into AB 578, which began as a housekeeping measure for Nevada's gaming regulators. In the Senate Judiciary Committee, several amendments were proposed, including some that have nothing to do with interactive gambling.

Any amendments added by the Senate would have to be approved by the Assembly.

If AB 578 passes both houses and is signed by Gov. Kenny Guinn, a Republican who hasn't yet announced a position on the bill, Nevada would become the first U.S. state to legalize Internet gambling.

But the bill is only enabling legislation. It gives wide discretion to Nevada's regulatory bodies to determine whether online gambling can comply with "all applicable laws" and be properly regulated.

Even if regulators decide to proceed, it's expected to take 18 to 24 months before any licenses are issued for interactive gambling. Only hotel-casinos that are already licensed in Nevada could apply for interactive licenses.

But Bible is confident that Berman can make the most of the hand she's been dealt, and his group will do everything it can to support the measure.

"We never say never when there is a week left in the Legislature," he said.