A study prepared by the University of Northern Iowa says determining the statewide impact of legalized internet poker on Iowa may be tougher than deciding whether to hold ’em or fold ’em at a real poker table. Gene Lutz conducted the study at the U.N.I. Center for Behavioral Research, and says there’s not much solid evidence to review.

“It’s really difficult, especially in the U.S. where it is only marginally allowed,” Lutz says. And he says the research is only getting started in other places where it is allowed, such as Europe, Canada and Australia. There is some information that a small percentage of Iowans do gamble on-line both legally and illegally.

Lutz says we do know from self-reports in Iowa that about five-percent of gamblers engage in internet gambling and two-percent have done so recently. Lutz says there are a couple theories about the impact of on-line poker. He says one line of speculation is that if you offer new opportunities you will have new people starting, versus the idea that people who already gamble in other forms will move to it for additional gambling opportunity or a substitute.

“At this point there’s no conclusive evidence for any one of those speculations versus the other,” Lutz says. The center conducted the study at the request of the Iowa Legislature which may consider legalizing on-line poker. Lutz says there’s no concrete answer on how it would impact the state.

“We can’t judge at this point whether if you made internet gambling legal, whether you would have more gambling, or just more gamblers,” Lutz says, “that is whether it would substitute for land-based gambling opportunity or would it be an additional form of gambling by the same people. At this point people are just speculating and trying to find out answers to those types of questions,” Lutz says.

One piece of research on the issue has helped fuel speculation on the whole issue. Lutz says there’s interesting research that shows areas that have legalized internet gambling have “a disproportionally high number of folks who are what are called problem gamblers.”

But he says that raises the question of which came first, were they attracted to it because they were inclined to be problem gamblers or did it cause them to be problem gamblers? “That’s one of the big research questions that’s out there right now, which of those two is happening,” Lutz says.

The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, which regulates the states casinos, is working on a report on internet poker that is due to be released in December.