Florida may gamble on online gaming - FOX 35 News Orlando

Florida may gamble on online gaming

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

Lisa Metzler knows more about online casino games than she ever cared to learn. She's in therapy now. She had been shut in her Apollo Beach home since last spring, hooked on Internet card games.

She was blowing more than $20,000 a month.

"I would sleep for an hour," she explained. "Yes, that's how addicted I got to it."

She eventually overdosed to try to stop the pain.

"I was hooked up to monitors, Baker-Acted next day," she recalled. "After I got out of rehab, I started right up again with sweepstakes and the casinos."

Metzler is sharing her meltdown to warn state lawmakers of what she says could happen if they license online card games.

"I feel like there's going to be many more cases like mine," she said.

In Florida, House conservatives, who are morally opposed to betting, stalled Internet gaming bills in the past. But the U.S. Justice Department ruled betting on online card games does not violate the Wire Act.

That put offshore web casinos back in business.

Delaware and Nevada just licensed online gaming in their states. And several others are moving in that direction to rake in big tax dollars.

Florida is under growing pressure to join in, or lose out.

"It's going to be spent anyway. So if it's going to be spent, let's get our piece that should be coming to us as a state," said state Rep. Rick Kriseman (D, St. Petersburg).

Florida considered regulating -- and taxing -- online poker last year. A state analysis showed it could have pumped more than $10-million into the state budget in its first year.

"I think intra-state poker can produce a lot more than $10-million," observed state Sen. Dennis Jones (R, Pinellas).

Jones chaired the Committee on Regulated Industries. And he says Florida has a big opportunity to cash in.

"We could actually be the center for several states," he continued.

Jones says Florida will embrace online poker and possibly much more. The question is: When?

"One way or other, I think it will pass."

The poker lobby wants Florida to tax online poker winnings, because it wants state oversight.

"Our money is not protected," lamented online poker advocate Donna Blevins. "We have no ability to make sure games are fair. Our minors are not protected.

But opponents say there are too many stories like Lisa Metzler's. And many others who don't want us to show their faces lost much more than she did.

"I would say a half-million dollars," said one man, who now counsels others who he says would self-destruct. "People who have an addictive personality are just a click away from financial devastation."

Supporters of online gaming say we already have that problem. They say regulation could help address it.

"People are playing poker today -- unregulated -- as much as they want to," Blevins pointed out.

There should be some cases of addiction, but that's true of anything -- drugs, candy, hot dogs, or poker," Jones added.

The Legislature must also decide whether to allow mega resort casinos in South Florida.

House and Senate leaders say they will review all of our gaming laws. But, based on prior votes, they could also stall or reject any expansion of gaming next year.

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