DES MOINES, Iowa
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad said Monday he has not ruled out the possibility of backing a measure to legalize Internet poker that is being debated in the Legislature.
Branstad said he would need to learn more about the proposal if it cleared the Legislature and reached his desk, and acknowledged that many Iowans already play poker illegally on the Internet using sites based outside the country.
"Some of the people who are promoting it are saying, 'You've got this illegal offshore gambling that's going on,'" Branstad said at a news conference. "We want to prevent that from occurring and this would be a way of having it done legally instead of it being done illegally without the state getting any benefit from it."
The measure to legalize Internet poker has won approval in a Senate committee, and is awaiting debate in the full Senate.
Asked directly is he would veto the measure, Branstad refused to make an immediate decision.
"It's usually my policy not to threaten a veto on anything until I see it in its final form," said Branstad. "Things can change dramatically."
Backers said the fact that Branstad is open to the idea is likely to give the issue momentum.
"It helps," said Sen. Jeff Danielson. "There are all kinds of subject matters out there that are difficult and complex. Gaming is one of them."
During his initial tenure as governor, Branstad signed into law much of the legalized gambling that is on the books, yet he argues that he doesn't support gambling. During the last campaign, Branstad said the state, which is in the process of building its 18th casino, "is saturated" with gambling.
Money also gives the issue momentum. Lawmakers are struggling to close a projected budget gap of more than $500 million next year, and Internet gambling has been projected to generate about $30 million for the state.
Branstad said voters have demonstrated they support the legitimate gambling industry, but that they have voiced concerns that online gambling is rife.
"The people of the state of Iowa have supported legal gaming, however, there is a concern about the illegal activity that is going on," said Branstad.
One of the key arguments made by backers of the Internet gambling measure is that state regulation is the best way to protect Iowans who are already playing poker on the Internet. Branstad agreed.
"Protecting the integrity of the state is the most important responsibility," said Branstad. "We want to protect our citizens from being defrauded by unscrupulous activity."