The growing popularity of a new form of poker may plunge the Legislature into another round of emotional debate over gambling, key lawmakers said on Tuesday.
"I think this is an area that is unclear," said Sen. Michael Connolly, D-Dubuque. "I think it would help for people to know what's allowable."
At issue is a game called Texas Hold 'Em, a game played in Las Vegas for enormous sums of money. Texas Hold 'Em tournaments are often broadcast on television. While a proposed measure might deal with how much money can be won or lost in a poker game, it also could open up debate to the entire subject of gambling.
Joe Diaz, a Division of Criminal Investigation agent who deals with gambling issues, told a legislative oversight committee the game is increasingly popular, both as a fundraiser and as a social event. "It's being played everywhere," Diaz said.
Jean Davis, of the Department of Inspections and Appeals, said gambling restrictions are contained in a series of places in state law, and the issue has become more complicated as the state has plunged more deeply into the gambling business.
Beginning in the 1980s, the state authorized parimutuel betting. It then approved a lottery and casinos around the state.
"We don't have a long history of gambling, but we have a lot of forms of gambling," Davis told the Government Oversight Committee, a joint House-Senate panel.
Rep. Scott Raecker, R-Urbandale, said the rapid expansion of gambling in the state has led to laws that are confusing and often contradictory.
Davis said that in general, card games are limited to winning or losing $50 within a 24-hour period, but Raecker said he's been told of poker games where hundred of dollars are won and lost.
He asked Davis and Diaz to draft legislation that would clear up any confusion, acknowledging that that will likely be a complex task for the next election-year Legislature.
Lawmakers admit that the state budget is hooked on gambling profits, and fear that the poker craze could cut into the take.