LAS VEGAS - Gamblers who prefer their laptops to blackjack tables could soon get a boost from Washington.
Republican New York Congressman Peter King introduced legislation Thursday that would rescue online gambling from a legal gray zone and fully regulate it.
The federal government cracked down on online poker in 2011. But the same year, the U.S. Justice Department issued a ruling making online gambling legal so long as it's permitted on the state level.
Congress flirted with an online gambling bill last year, but industry infighting and partisan disagreement ultimately doomed it. When that legislation failed, states began moving ahead with their own regulation.
Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware have legalized some kind of online gambling, and legislatures in other states are weighing the issue.
King says his measure, called the Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection and Enforcement Act of 2013, would allow states and players to navigate the world of online betting with confidence.
"A common federal standard will ensure strong protections for consumers, protect against problem and underage gambling, and make it easier for businesses, players, lawmakers and regulators to navigate and freely participate," he said in a statement.
The bill would create an office of gambling oversight in the Treasury Department, impose safeguards against underage and compulsive gambling, and facilitate interstate online wagering. Individual states could continue to ban the practice.
The gambling lobby has been pushing for uniform federal legislation, warning that a patchwork of state laws could make it impossible for the global corporations that run the gambling industry to do business.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., pursued federal law to legalize Internet poker but ultimately gave up before even introducing the legislation.
"We spent the last four years working very, very hard to get in a position to support such legislation if it was introduced," said American Gaming Association CEO Frank Fahrenkopf. "So we're now left in a situation where Kyl, who was very important in the process, has retired, and you've got a multitude of states starting to pass legislation, so we think the urgency is even more important now."
The lobby, which historically has supported an online poker only strategy, is expected to decide whether to change its stance and support the King bill next month.
King might not be the only congressman putting his chips on Internet gambling this summer.
Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, has said he plans to introduce online poker legislation later this year. And Reid has been working with fellow Nevada senator Dean Heller, a Republican, to craft legislation that might succeed where he failed last year.