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Iowa and Illinois use the internet to boost income

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Iowa and Illinois are trying to use the internet to generate income these days. Illinois is turning to online lottery sales while Iowa lawmakers mull over internet poker.

Online gaming is illegal in Iowa right now. Players have to come to an actual casino. But now, legislation could put internet poker right into computers.

Iowa casinos know all about dealing cards at traditional table games. Players interact with each other in a live setting. Now, some of that action could shift to the internet.

"A majority of the individuals would transition over into a regulated poker site if it was regulated," said Brian Ohorilko, Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission.

After studying revenue possibilities, the commission shows it could be a real money maker. Internet poker could tally $13 to $60 million in yearly activity. That means $3 to $13 million dollars in Iowa revenue annually.

"It's nonsense," said Rick Martenson, who counsels problem gamblers in Davenport. "Revenue is harder for all of us to come by, but we live within our means. Can the state live within its means?"

While Iowa considers video poker, Illinois prepares to introduce online lottery sales in coming weeks. Illinois could pull in an extra $100-plus million to the cash-strapped state and attract thousands of new players.

But gaming opponents say that online poker and lottery sales will just feed addictions. What's convenient is more concerning for those with a problem.

"Like pornography, if it's easily available online, then more people get involved," Martenson said. "More people have a problem with it."

Online poker and lottery sales could enable problem gamblers, but states like Iowa and Illinois say they just want to get a cut of what's already going on.

It's anybody's guess right now just how far the Iowa legislation will advance in Des Moines.

"Any time you get into a gambling debate, you never know where it's going to go," said Rep. Jim Lykam (D) Davenport.

The commission isn't taking a position on Iowa's legislation, but its research shows that video poker would be closely regulated to prevent cheating and underage gambling.

For now, Iowa is holding its cards and waiting to play.