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Prospects for Legal Online Poker Fade? (Updated)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

Updated 10:12 a.m. Eastern Thursday

The Las Vegas Sun reported Wednesday that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is not going to further push to legalize some online poker during the hectic lame-duck session, citing Reid saying, "We're still working on that, we're not able to."

Reid's office denied the story late in the day, however, insisting that Reid was actually addressing another issue in the second part of the comment.

Reid's staff has been circulating a bill that would eventually legalize online pokerin a way that would have given the large casino interests in his home state of Nevada an advantage thanks to a provision limiting upstarts from entering the market for two years.

The initial report that Reid had given up on the bill left those interests in a "frenzy," the Sun reported.

A bill to legalize online poker would face slim prospects in the new Congress thanks to an influx of Republican lawmakers. Three key Republicans wrote a letter last week opposing legalization, arguing that lawmakers "should not take advantage of the young, the weak and the vulnerable in the name of new revenues to cover more government spending."

According to, online poker is a nearly $4.9 billion industry, and the United States makes up about one third of the market. The group said Reid's legislation would generate $319,000,000 in tax revenue each year. (The Sun estimates the industry at $25 billion.)

Word of the legislation has spawned a heated debate in the online poker community. Supporters note that it would make it easier for players to deposit and withdraw money, drive interest in the game and give it a sheen of legitimacy; critics object strongly to a proposed 15-month blackout period before any online poker interests could operate and fear that states will opt out.

It appears the only way Reid can get the legislation through in the lame-duck session would have been to attach it to another bill, perhaps the Bush era tax cut deal worked out with the White House.

Brian Montopoli is senior political reporter for You can read more of his posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.