The Online Poker Scramble Continues

Every few months it seems there's a revival of hope that online gaming will be legalized in the United States. Usually the rumors quickly die down, but right now there's something of an arms race going on in the gaming world as casino giants scramble to prepare for possible regulation.

Wynn Resorts (NAS: WYNN) and Caesars Enertainment have formed potential partnerships with PokerStars and 888 Holdings, respectively. And within the last week, three more gaming companies joined the fray.

The Fertitta family, who controls Station Casinos, bought CyberArts Licensing through Fertitta Interactive and a huge hammer dropped yesterday. MGM Resorts (NYS: MGM) and Boyd Gaming said they would join a venture with, owner of PartyPoker, if online poker is made explicitly legal.

Boyd will own 10% of the venture, and it's unknown exactly what the contribution of and MGM would be. At the very least, this is a plus for Boyd, which could never build the kind of scale that will be possible in this partnership by itself.

Many unanswered questions
This doesn't really mean that online poker is any closer to becoming a reality for players at home. But it does mean that companies think there's a good enough possibility that online poker will be legalized to start getting a business ready to go.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) recently said of his bill to legalize poker, "If you've got a bill that Barney Frank, Joe Barton, and Ron Paul are all for, who can be against it?"

Now that the game of musical chairs is being played, who will be left standing when the music stops? Las Vegas Sands (NYS: LVS) remains the biggest holdout of the Las Vegas operators. Maybe the company has plans to open its own site, as it tried to do in 2006, but with alliances forming around it, the company might want to watch out. There are millions, if not billions, at stake in online poker -- an opportunity casino companies won't want to miss out on.

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