Iowa could be among the first states in the country to legalize on-line poker.

Officials in the state of Nevada and the District of Columbia have voted to make the move, but regulators in those jurisdictions are drawing up the rules for legal on-line poker play. The Iowa Senate this evening voted 29-20 in favor of legislation that would give the state-licensed casinos in Iowa authority to run poker games for patrons who could play the game online, as long as the registered casino customer and their computer are physically within the state’s borders.

Senator Jeff Danielson, a Democrat from Cedar Falls, cited estimates that indicate Iowans are wagering $30 million in on-line poker games every year — money that is often going to overseas companies running the online games.

“That’s a problem for our overall economy to see that kind of leakage,” Danielson said.

Lawmakers like Danielson suggest it’s a consumer protection issue.

“I believe we ought to have a thoughtful, responsible policy that protects poker players rights to have a fair game and a level playing field,” Danielson said, “whether they play online or in a casino.”

Iowa’s governor has expressed similar sentiments about the legislation. On Monday, Governor Terry Branstad told reporters he is open to considering the bill.

“I want to protect the integrity of Iowans. I think that’s the most important thing,” Branstad said. “In terms of regulating and controlling gambling in this state, our top priority has been to keep it honest, clean, open, transparent and keep the criminal element out.”

 Branstad is in his fifth term as governor. During that tenure Branstad has signed bills legalizing  parimutuel racing and creating a state-run lottery as well as a series of casino-related bills. There are currently 17 state-licensed casinos operating in Iowa, all of which could contract with an internet provider to run on-line poker games if the bill becomes law.

While 20 senators voted against legalizing on-line poker, none of the opponents voiced their objections during senate debate of the bill.  It’s unclear whether the legislation can survive a deadline in the Iowa House, as the bill must clear a committee in the House by Friday to remain eligible for debate.