As we posted recently, two of the largest land-based casinos are talking about making a move into online poker. Both Harrah’s and MGM Mirage seem quite sure that online gambling will be legalized in the US in the near future, but in the meantime they plan to tap into the European online market, a move likely to raise some eyebrows in the EU.

At the recent Global Gaming Expo, Terry Lanni and Gary Loveman – top executives of MGM Mirage and Harrah’s, respectively – made declarations about their interest in entering the online market, and on how they were probably not going to wait for US legislation to change before launching their websites, even as both agree that they expect the legalization of online poker to take place in the next 2 years.

Terry Lanni, chairman and chief executive officer at MGM Mirage, was upbeat when mentioning Mirage’s previous attempt at online gaming, which was not exactly a success. In 2001, the Mirage launched, but its stringent registration and security procedures made it unpopular and it was closed less than two years later. At the time, Lanni stood by their principles, declaring: "We set out to prove that online casino gaming could be implemented with the same high standards of regulatory integrity as land-based operations. We were successful in demonstrating a working model that provided the proper checks for jurisdictional control, age verification and the necessary security and responsible gaming measures required to function in a regulated market."

This year at the gaming expo, Lanni showed confidence that this less-than-successful experience left the Mirage in a good position to try again: "We closed the operation down with the thought that we know what we're doing, and we're prepared to do it if and when it becomes legal here." Lanni also said online casinos from such large land-based brands will not be at a disadvantage to companies which have been online longer, because their very recognizable names and properties will make players feel at ease quickly.

Harrah’s CEO Loveman may not even be willing to wait out the two years predicted by the experts, considering in the meantime the legal options for operating in Europe: "If you take a look at the legal landscape in continental Europe and the United Kingdom, there are countries where it's demonstrably legal and there's absolutely no encumbrance. Those are areas that are very attractive to us," he said.Harrah’s purchase of the WSOP brand and the successful introduction of the WSOP in Europe this year, make the notion of a WSOP branded poker site the next logical step. Harrah’s are no strangers to online gambling either: in March 2004 they launched a UK-only site called as part of a larger venture, but when the rest of the venture fell through the site was shut down with only 6 months of operation behind it.

The only shadow in these sunny skies is the question of how the European Union will look upon US-owned sites operating in its market, at the delicate political moment of negotiating compensation from the US for denying Europe the very same right to operate. It may be slightly easier for Harrah's, since they already have some presence in the UK through their LCI casino properties in London.

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