By Sue Zeidler
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - European online gaming operator 888 Holdings Plc cleared a key hurdle in its return to a reopening, regulated U.S. online poker market after the Nevada Gaming Control Board voted to recommend approval of its application for a state interactive gaming license at a hearing scheduled for March 21.
The Nevada Gaming Control Board on Wednesday said it recommended the approval of Gibraltar-based 888's applications, including one as a manufacturer of an interactive gaming system, one as a distributor and another as an interactive gaming service provider.
The company plans to work in partnership with Caesars Entertainment Corp in Nevada and has long viewed the state as a huge growth market. Calls and emails to company officials were not immediately returned.
888 Holdings operates World Series of Poker websites with Caesars in Britain and operates other online gaming sites throughout Europe.
Caesars and 888 have said that once licensed they would launch a World Series of Poker website in Nevada. Caesars' Interactive unit won approval to operate an online poker service in Nevada from gaming regulators earlier this year.
The Nevada Gaming Commission will take up the Control Board's favorable recommendations for 888 on March 21 in Las Vegas.
888 was a major participant in the U.S. market, gaining online expertise that Las Vegas casinos seek, prior to 2006 when Internet betting was explicitly barred by Congress.
The U.S. Department of Justice in late 2011 clarified its stance regarding online wagering, which it had long considered illegal, and this paved the way for states to unilaterally legalize some forms of online gambling.
Late last month, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie approved online gaming in the Garden State, joining Nevada and Delaware in the race to capture what is seen as an online bonanza.
Several other states, including Massachusetts, California, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa and Mississippi, are weighing some kind of online gambling legislation.
About 85 countries have legalized online gambling and an estimated $35 billion is bet online worldwide each year, including millions of people in the United States through offshore websites, according to the American Gaming Association.
(Reporting By Susan Zeidler; Editing by Edmund Klamann)